Maria continues strengthening, hits 175 mph

- Category 5 Hurricane Maria's maximum sustained winds have increased to 175 mph (280 kph).

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says an Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter plane took the reading Tuesday evening as the storm was about 60 miles (100 kilometers) southeast of St. Croix.

Maria is moving west-northwest at 10 mph (17 kph), and is expected to pass near the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday night and hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, as well as St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat and portions of the Dominican Republic.

Hurricane center forecasters say it "now appears likely" that Maria will still be at Category 5 intensity when it moves over the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The center of the hurricane was forecast to move near or over the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix and Puerto Rico on Tuesday night and Wednesday, bringing with it "life-threatening" flooding from rain and storm surge.

France's interior minister has made an initial damage assessment after Hurricane Maria passed over two French Caribbean islands and says at least 150,000 homes are without electricity.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said in Paris on Tuesday that the hurricane left 80,000 households in Guadeloupe and 70,000 in Martinique without power.

Collomb warned that Maria still was passing through St. Martin and St. Barts islands, French territories that suffered extreme damage from Hurricane Irma.

The extent of the damage from Tuesday's hurricane is yet to be assessed on those islands and in Guadeloupe. Collomb says Martinique's airport is still operating.

The Guadeloupe prefecture said earlier that one person died and two others were missing there. Collomb said there were three people wounded in Martinique, including one seriously.

 

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