Forecasters said it was expected to become much stronger over the next 48 hours following a path that would take it near numerous islands wrecked by Hurricane Irma and on to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Maria marks the 13th named Atlantic storm of the year, the seventh hurricane so far this season and the fourth major hurricane – defined as Category 3 or higher – following Harvey, Irma and Jose, the NHC said.
Streets were flooded in some residential parts of the island of Barbados, which had been experiencing heavy rain since Sunday as the storm approached.
Hurricane Irma is expected to make its way through the Leeward Islands late Monday..
A hurricane watch has now been extended to Puerto Rico and its islands Vieques and Culebra.
Additionally, the government has been in “constant” communication with the White House and federal agencies since before Hurricane Irma struck last week.
Up to 15in (38cm) of rain is predicted to fall as Maria barrels across the Caribbean, with “isolated maximum amounts of 20in (51cm)” expected to deluge the British Virgin Islands.
Maria doesn’t have the historic size and strength of Irma, and its hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 15 miles – far short of the 70 miles such winds extended from Irma’s center. Then it’s expected to turn north after Puerto Rico – away from Florida.
The worst conditions are likely from eastern Long Island to eastern MA on Wednesday when these areas may get battered by the combination of heavy rain, damaging wind gusts to hurricane-force, and coastal flooding.
Hurricane Jose, which buzzed the Leeward Islands as it moved north and west in Irma’s wake last week, has now weakened, with maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour. These islands can expect 6 to 9 feet of storm surge, which is often the biggest threat to life and property from a hurricane.
Reports from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 120 miles per hour (195 km/h) with higher gusts. “This is going to be a catastrophic event”.
Criticised for the pace of relief efforts in their overseas territories devastated by Irma, Britain, France and the Netherlands said they were boosting resources for the Caribbean as Maria approaches.
Army soldiers wait with their belongings on a beach while evacuating in advance of Hurricane Maria.
More than 1,300 United Kingdom troops are now deployed in the region, and were sent to help with relief and fix work after Hurricane Irma caused chaos.
The British Foreign Office said more than 1,300 troops are in the region, on affected islands or nearby locations, ready to help after Maria goes by.
“We do not know what is happening outside”.
Hurricane Jose meanwhile is also moving along the Eastern coast of the USA, and it’s expected to stay a hurricane levels through Tuesday.
In addition to Maria there is also Hurricane Jose to the north. Jose is expected to weaken and stay offshore of the U.S. East Coast.