Hurricane Maria strengthens to Category 5, Puerto Rico prepares for potentially catastrophic storm

Hurricane Maria was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane on Monday, with top sustained winds of 160 MPH. As the hurricane continues to churn in the Atlantic Ocean, it is expected to strike Puerto Rico on Wednesday. 

The hurricane could prove to be a disastrous blow to more than 3 million Americans in Puerto Rico. 

Because of the threat posed to the US territory, Puerto Rico was placed under a hurricane warning by the National Hurricane Center.

Earlier on Monday, forecasters predicted Maria's rapid intensification. 

"Significant strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to become a dangerous major hurricane before it moves through the Leeward Islands," according to the National Hurricane Center's latest update.

 

 

Maria has prompted a hurricane warning for Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. As of early Monday evening, the storm was passing over Dominica. 

Torrential rainfall could cause deadly flash flooding and mudslides on islands that it crosses. Maria could dump 6 to 12 inches of rain across the Leeward Islands -- including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands -- through Wednesday night.

"We want to alert the people of Puerto Rico that this is not an event like we've ever seen before," Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told reporters Monday.

And for the first time in 85 years, Puerto Rico is expected to suffer a direct landfall from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. Puerto Rico's governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of that landfall, which will likely happen Wednesday.

"It's time to wrap up your preparations now, Puerto Rico," CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.