MIAMI (AP) — The Latest on tropical weather (all times local):
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 (260 kph) winds.
The hurricane is about 15 miles (25 kilometers) east-southeast of Dominica and moving west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph).
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 at 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.
Hurricane forecasters are predicting that already powerful Hurricane Maria will become a destructive Category 5 hurricane with winds reaching 155 mph (250 kph).
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 (15 kilometers) 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.
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 (215 kph).
At 5 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 45 miles (70 kilometers) east-southeast of Dominica.
A Hurricane warning has been issued for Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques.
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