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Hurricane Maria rolls over Dominica, on course to hit Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

After pounding the Caribbean island of Dominica, Hurricane Maria has gathered strength as it nears Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The hurricane is the second maximum-strength storm to hit the region this month.

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Hurricane Maria hits Caribbean

Forecasters warned of "potentially catastrophic" impact as Hurricane Maria headed towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said the storm is expected to pass "near or over" the Virgin Islands overnight and hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday. The center also upgraded the storm to an "extremely dangerous Category 5."

The NHC also cautioned about a storm surge that could raise water levels between 7 to 11 feet (2.1 to 3.4 meters) above normal tide levels. Those conditions could lead to life-threatening floods and mudslides.

Read more: Caribbean recovers slowly as more storms threaten

Forecasters recorded maximum sustained winds of 165 mph (265 kmh)

US President Donald Trump has declared an emergency on the US territories in the hurricane's path and authorized the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Floods, landslides in Dominica

Maria barreled over the island of Dominica late on Monday, causing landslides and destroying homes.

Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted on his Facebook page that the storm had blown the roof off his house and that there were initial reports of "widespread devastation."

"We have lost all what money can buy and replace," he said.

Maria also caused a landslide on Dominica, a former British colony between the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

European islands issue early response

Britain, France and the Netherlands, whose overseas territories were left devastated by Irma and stand to be barraged again by Maria, have all stepped up efforts to guarantee locals' safety.

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Stunned by the destruction wrought by Irma

Leaders from all three nations faced stinging criticism over the pace of their relief efforts after Irma.

"We are planning for the unexpected, we are planning for the worst," said Chris Austin, head of a UK military task force set up to deal with Irma.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told the Agence France-Presse news agency that he would order 110 more soldiers to be deployed in and around the island of St. Martin, which is split between France and the Netherlands, to shore up security and distribute aid.

More often, more intense

The latest severe storm warnings come just a week after Irma whipped up record winds of up to 295 kilometers per hour for more than 33 hours straight as it pounded the Caribbean and Florida, killing around 60 people and leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

Read more: Hurricane Irma adds extra challenge to immigrants in Florida 

An earlier hurricane, Jose, was gaining intensity over the North Atlantic late Monday, prompting tropical storm warnings for coastal areas in the US states of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Many scientists argue that the increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes like Irma, and Harvey before it, is due to the storms drawing greater energy from the ever-warming oceans — almost certainly a consequence of climate change.

rs, dm/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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