Updated on September 18 at 6:03 p.m. EDT
The Caribbean is preparing for an “extremely dangerous” major hurricane less than two weeks after Irma struck the region, devastating entire islands, flattening homes and buildings, and killing more than 30 people.
The National Hurricane Center on Monday night upgraded Hurricane Maria to a Category 4 storm packing 130-mile-per-hour winds with stronger gusts. “Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 24 to 36 hours, and Maria is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane during the next couple of days,” the center said in its latest advisory.
The eye of the hurricane is expected to reach the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico Monday night, according to the latest forecasts. The Leeward Islands include the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the two-island state of Antigua and Barbuda, the British territory of Anguilla, and other islands. Many are still assessing the damage of Hurricane Irma, which hit as a Category 5 earlier this month.
Storm advisories are in effect around the region. Hurricane Maria will bring storm surge “accompanied by large and destructive waves” that will raise water levels by as much as six feet to nine feet. The storm is expected to drop six inches to 12 inches of rain in the central and southern Leeward Islands with some spots getting as much as 20 inches. Between two and four inches are expected in the rest of the islands, including Barbuda and Anguilla, according to the National Hurricane Center. “Rainfall on all of these islands could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the center said.