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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Hurricane Maria’s core is expected to reach southeastern Puerto Rico Wednesday morning.

The National Hurricane Center warns preparations against life-threatening storm surge and rainfall flooding and destructive winds should be rushed to completion.

At 11 p.m. Tuesday, the center of the Category 5 hurricane was 30 miles south-southeast of St. Croix and 120 miles southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Maria is moving toward the west-northwest near 10 mph. A west-northwest to northwest motion is expected to continue through Wednesday night, followed by a northwestward motion on Thursday.

On the forecast track, the eye of Maria will move near or over St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands within the next couple of hours, then cross Puerto Rico on Wednesday, and pass just north of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic Wednesday night and Thursday.

Maximum sustained winds are near 175 mph with higher gusts. Reports from reconnaissance aircraft indicate that the area of hurricane-force winds has increased in size.  Hurricane-force winds now extend outward up to 60 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 150 miles.

Maria is a potentially catastrophic category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.  Some fluctuations in intensity could occur before the hurricane reaches Puerto Rico, but

Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous category 4 or 5 hurricane as it moves near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Slow weakening is expected after the hurricane emerges over the Atlantic north of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for…
* St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat
* U.S. Virgin Islands
* British Virgin Islands
* Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques
* Cabo Engano to Puerto Plata

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for…
* Saba and St. Eustatius
* St. Maarten
* Anguilla
* Guadeloupe
* West of Puerto Plata to the northern border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti
* West of Cabo Engano to Punta Palenque

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for…
* Saba and St. Eustatius
* St. Maarten
* St. Martin and St. Barthelemy
* Anguilla
* Isla Saona to Cabo Engano
* Turks and Caicos Islands and the Southeastern Bahamas

Hurricane conditions will continue in portions of the hurricane warning area in the Leeward Islands this afternoon, and spread into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico tonight and Wednesday.  Tropical storm conditions are occuring over the remainder of the Leeward Islands, and should spread into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico starting in the next several hours.

A dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves will raise water levels by as much as 7 to 11 feet above normal tide levels in the hurricane warning area near where the center of Maria moves across the Leeward Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

Maria is expected to produce the following rain accumulations through Thursday:

Central and southern Leeward Islands…10 to 15 inches, isolated 20 inches.

U.S. and British Virgin Islands…10 to 15 inches, isolated 20 inches.

Puerto Rico…12 to 18 inches, isolated 25 inches.

Northern Leeward Islands from Barbuda to Anguilla…4 to 8 inches, isolated 10 inches.

Windward Islands and Barbados…2 to 4 inches, isolated 6 inches.

Eastern Dominican Republic…4 to 8 inches, isolated 12 inches.

Rainfall on all of these islands will cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

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