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Puerto Rico Braces for Direct Hit from Hurricane Maria on Wednesday
"The powerful storm, which made landfall Monday night [on Dominica], has since been downgraded to a Category 4 with sustained winds of 155 mph," reported Euan McKirdy, Joe Sterling and Holly Yan for CNN on Tuesday at 3:09 AM ET. "After it passes over Dominica it is on course to score a direct hit on the US territory of Puerto Rico -- the first hurricane of its strength to do so in 85 years."
The ferocity of Maria bears striking similarities to Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 hurricane which hit the Bahamas and Florida in 1992, says CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. Both storms are compact, and Maria's wind speed comes close to that of Hurricane Andrew -- 165 mph -- when it hit southern Florida.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told CNN that the Caribbean island nation of 72,000 residents has been "devastated." It was so powerful that it tore the roof off his residence.
"This hurricane stayed in the country for a very, very long time and (was) just unrelenting," he added. "I don't think there were very many roofs which would survive the hurricane."
A statement from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that its record-topping winds reached 160 miles per hour when it hit the island nation. In an update the Center said that reports "indicate significant damage to structures has occurred in Dominica."
A hurricane warning from the NHC remains in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, the US and British Virgin Islands as well as Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques.
Puerto Rico prepares
Calling its potential impact "catastrophic," Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, said that the island was expected to experience tropical storm force winds for about two and a half days and sustained high level hurricane winds for "the better part of a day."
This category 1 storm, "swirling around in the Atlantic about 235 miles east of the North Carolina coast," has prompted the National Hurricane Center to issue "a tropical storm watch...for the coast of Long Island, New York, from Fire Island to Port Jefferson, as well as southern New England, including Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket," reports NBC News on Tuesday,12:29 PM ET.