The United States National Hurricane Center has said that Hurricane Maria has risen to become an “extremely dangerous” Category Five superstorm, as it heads towards the Caribbean island of Dominica.
“The eye and the intense inner core is expected to pass near Dominica in the next few hours,” the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its 2100 GMT bulletin.
Maria was upgraded to the pinnacle of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale as its maximum sustained winds reached 160 miles per hour (215 km per hour), with higher gusts, NHC reported, according to Reuters.
Reports state Hurricane Maria was 45 miles (70 kilometers) southeast of Dominica. The storm comes two weeks after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc through the Caribbean, claiming many lives.
Dominica, a heavily forested former British colony home to 72,000 people, lies in the eastern Caribbean about halfway between the French islands of Guadeloupe, to the north, and Martinique, to the south.
“Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 24 to 36 hours, and Maria is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane during the next couple of days,” the NHC added.
The NHC described the center of the storm as “potentially catastrophic.”
Maria reportedly would be the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in about 85 years. The last powerful storm to hit the region was a Category 4 hurricane which swept the US US island territory in 1932, Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.
This is the fourth major hurricane of the year as it readies to bear down on the tiny island nation of Dominica while on a likely collision course with the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.