Hurricane Maria strengthens to Category 3, has Puerto Rico in its sights

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The Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft made its first pass by Maria on Sunday afternoon.

The National Weather Service is warning about risky surf and rip currents along the USA eastern seaboard.

For the 8 a.m. advisory from The National Hurricane Center, Maria's maximum sustained winds were near 65 miles per hour with higher gusts. Meanwhile Hurricane Jose continues to lurk off the East Coast, and should be watched closely by coastal areas from the Mid-Atlantic to New England, where tropical storm conditions are possible during the coming week.

This is why a tropical storm watch was issued from DE to Sandy Hook, N.J., and from East Rockaway Inlet, N.Y., to Plymouth, Mass.

Building swells could lead to some dune erosion, localized washovers, and unsafe rip currents through the middle of the week, the weather service said.

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Maria is approaching the eastern Caribbean less than two weeks after hurricane Irma caused destruction and chaos in the region, before over-running Florida. Thomas and St. John seeing tropical storm force winds, Mapp said, adding, "given the current conditions of St. Thomas and St. John, that's not good".

"Maria is likely to affect the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by mid-week as a unsafe major hurricane", the National Hurricane Center said. The storm is predicted to bring six to 12 inches of rain across the islands.

Hurricane watches were issued Saturday night for St. Martin, Antigua, St. Kitts, Nevis, Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Saba, St. Eustatius, and Anguilla. This last storm watch includes Long Island Sound, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, the hurricane center said. It is now a tropical depression with maximum sustained winds that have decreased to near 35 miles per hour.

Streets were flooded in some residential parts of the island of Barbados, doused with heavy rain since Sunday as the storm passed to the north of the island.

Maria was gathering strength Sunday and becoming better organized as it headed toward islands already battered by Hurricane Irma.