Officials warn Hurricane Maria could hit with force not seen in generations

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MIAMI/ SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - UPDATE:
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - As Hurricane Maria barrels toward Puerto Rico, the governor of the U.S. territory is warning the Category 5 hurricane could hit "with a force and violence that we haven't seen for several generations." The warning follows an emotional plea for help from the leader of the tiny island of Dominica, which caused "mind-boggling" devastation and knocked out all communications.

Original story:
The Latest on tropical weather (all times are Eastern):

7:50 p.m.

Forecasters say Hurricane Maria has become a Category 5 storm as the eye nears Dominica.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday evening that Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter planes found that Maria had strengthened into a storm with 160 mph winds.

The hurricane is about 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica and moving west-northwest at 9 mph.

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7:20 p.m.

A private Catholic university in Florida has chartered a plane to fly students out of the Caribbean island of St. Croix as it braces for Hurricane Maria.

A news release from Barry University says students, faculty, staff and family members connected to the school's Physician Assistant Program were being flown to Miami on Monday. A few pets were also taken on the flight.

The 72 evacuees will be staying in residence halls on the school's Miami Shores campus.

St. Croix is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was largely spared by Hurricane Irma when it roared through the Caribbean as a Category 5 hurricane earlier this month. Two other main islands of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas and St. John, were devastated.

Forecasts show Hurricane Maria approaching the islands Tuesday night and Wednesday.

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6 p.m.

Hurricane forecasters are predicting that already powerful Hurricane Maria will become a destructive Category 5 hurricane with winds reaching 155 mph.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday that the storm would reach the highest measurement on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale within 24 hours.

University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy says one key sign of Maria's growing strength is what center forecasters call "the dreaded pinhole eye." Maria's eye has shrunk to 10 miles in diameter

A smaller, tighter eye makes the hurricane spin faster.

McNoldy says meteorologists saw a similar pinhole eye when Hurricane Wilma set a record for lowest central pressure - a key measure of storm power - in 2005.

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4:55 p.m.

Hurricane Maria has intensified into a dangerous Category 4 storm as it bears down on the Caribbean.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday the storm is growing in strength as it approaches land. The eye of the storm is expected to pass near the island of Dominica on Monday evening.

The center called the storm "extremely dangerous," with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.

At 5 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 45 miles east-southeast of Dominica.

A Hurricane warning has been issued for Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques.

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3:10 p.m.

Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina is canceling his speech before the U.N. General Assembly so that he can return home and coordinate preparations for Hurricane Maria.

Medina said in a video announcement that he wants to be in the country and make sure all necessary steps are being taken as the storm passes close to the country.

Maria is now on track to pass northeast of the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic early Thursday.

Medina was already in New York but expects to be home by late Monday.

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2:45 p.m.

The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands says people on the island of St. Croix should finish up preparing for Hurricane Maria.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp says the eyewall of the storm is expected to pass 22 miles (35 kilometers) south of the island Tuesday night and early Wednesday. Hurricane-force winds will extend for about 15 miles. Mapp warned the path of the storm could shift and the island could still be hit with strong gusts and heavy rain.

Mapp says the entire U.S. territory will be under curfew starting 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Maria comes on the heels of Hurricane Irma, which passed directly over the islands of St. Thomas and St. John to the north on Sept. 6.

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1:55 p.m.

The deployment of more than 100 members of the New York Army National Guard and state police to the U.S. Virgin Islands to help with hurricane recovery efforts is on hold because of another storm.

National Guard officials said Monday that the departure of 100 soldiers in a Buffalo-based military police unit and 30 troopers have been delayed because of Hurricane Maria, which has strengthened into a Category 3 storm as it pushes toward the eastern Caribbean.

The New York contingent was set to depart from Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station aboard a military aircraft for St. Thomas, one of several Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he was sending aid to the U.S. Virgin Islands during a one-day visit to the U.S. territory last Friday.

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1:40 p.m.

Puerto Rico has imposed a rationing of basic supplies including water and baby formula as Hurricane Maria approaches as a Category 3 storm.

Officials said Monday that the rationing is necessary to ensure everyone has access to basic items such as batteries, milk, canned foods, flashlights and other things. It does not apply to gasoline or other fuels.

Shelves at many stores were emptying out quickly as people rushed to finalize hurricane preparations. Many posted desperate pleas on social media for help in finding certain items.

Officials said some stores already were imposing their own rationing measures and stressed that more merchandise was scheduled to arrive on Monday to replenish shelves.

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12:05 p.m.

French authorities have ordered residents of the French Caribbean territory of Martinique to stay home as Hurricane Maria intensifies and approaches the island.

Authorities said in a statement that all rescue and security services on the island are on standby, including 600 firefighters, 400 police officers, and 500 troops.

All schools and public services are closed. Residents should shelter in the safest room of their homes and be prepared for power cuts and a disruption in the water supply.

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11:30 a.m.

A tropical storm warning has been issued for a stretch of New England as Hurricane Jose approaches the coast of the U.S. Northeast.

National Hurricane Center in Miami said the warning was in effect for an area stretching from Watch Hill, Rhode Island, to Hull, Massachusetts. The storm is expected to remain offshore, although coastal flooding is possible from Delaware to southern New England over the next few days.

The center says little change in strength is expected in the next 24 hours, although the storm will slowly weaken afterward. Maximum sustained winds Monday are near 75 mph with higher gusts.

Jose is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 3 to 5 inches over eastern Long Island, southeast Connecticut, southern Rhode Island, and southeast Massachusetts, including Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, through Wednesday.

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11:10 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says that Hurricane Maria has strengthened to a Category 3 storm as it headed toward the Caribbean.

Maria on Monday was "rapidly" intensifying into a major hurricane. The eye is expected to move through the Leeward Islands later Monday. The storm's center was about 60 miles east of Martinique, with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph.

The storm is on a path that would take it near many of the islands wrecked by Hurricane Irma and on toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Hurricane warnings were posted for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, and Martinique.

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10:30 a.m.

The ocean is washing over parts of North Carolina's Outer Banks as Hurricane Jose passes well to the east.

The state Transportation Department said in a Facebook post-Monday that the affected areas encompass Pea Island, Rodanthe, Avon, and Hatteras village on Hatteras Island.

Jose was about 270 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras on Monday morning and moving north at 9 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph.

DOT is urging drivers to drive slowly through the water. All roads are passable.

The National Weather Service warns of dangerous rip currents along the coast.

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9:10 a.m.

Five people were knocked off a coastal jetty in the U.S. Northeast by high surf caused by Hurricane Jose hundreds of miles away in the Atlantic.

Capt. Nelson Upright of the Narragansett Fire Department told WPRI-TV the injuries in Rhode Island ranged Sunday from minor to "pretty major." He says rescuers had to fight through rough surf to load the injured onto stretchers and get them to shore. All five were taken to a hospital.

A witness who called 911 told the station the people were standing in two groups on different parts of the jetty as the storm-whipped waves crashed over the rocks. He says one person appeared to be unconscious and another had a significant leg injury.

Emergency officials along the coast are warning people to watch waves churned up by Jose from a safe distance.

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9 a.m.

Hurricane Jose is still far out in the Atlantic but warnings already are up in New Jersey for rough surf, powerful winds and even a chance for storm surge by midweek.

A tropical storm watch is in effect in New Jersey for all or parts of several coastal counties. Tropical storm conditions are possible Tuesday.

Jose, still far off in the Atlantic, is churning up the ocean and swimmers are advised to stay out of the surf.

Forecasters say wind gusts of up to 45 mph are possible, winds capable of downing trees and power lines.

The potential exists for a storm surge of 1 to 3 feet through early Wednesday afternoon. That could pose flooding along the coast and generate moderate beach erosion.

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8 a.m. EDT

Forecasters say Hurricane Jose is now about 270 miles (440 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and that a large stretch of the U.S. East Coast into New England should keep watch on the storm's progress.

Jose is whipping up dangerous surf and rip currents as it heads north over the Atlantic off the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph as of 8 a.m. EDT Monday. Forecasters say Jose is expected to pass well offshore of North Carolina's coast through Monday, then head further northeast of the New Jersey coast by Wednesday.

In the eastern Caribbean, Hurricane Maria is intensifying. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm now has top winds of 110 mph (175 kph) and is about 85 miles (135 kilometers) east of Martinique and set to become a major hurricane in coming hours. A hurricane warning has now been issued for St. Lucia.

The Miami-based hurricane center says Maria is expected to move across the Leeward Islands late Monday.