Hurricane Maria strengthens to Category 3 again after ravaging Puerto Rico

ABC News (SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) — Hurricane Maria strengthened again to a major hurricane early Thursday after laying waste to Puerto Rico and leaving the island in the dark.

The latest update from the National Hurricane Center at 5 a.m. shows maximum sustained winds for Maria are now 115 mph. The storm returned to major hurricane status after moving back over open water before it is expected to affect Turks and Caicos on Thursday night.

At least 10 people have died in the storm, including seven in Dominica, two in Guadeloupe and one in Puerto Rico.

The storm is expected to strengthen over the next day or two as it moves north, the National Weather Service said. The storm could be a high-end Category 3 or low-end Category 4 storm while it passes Turks and Caicos. Beyond Turks and Caicos, the hurricane is likely to weaken as it moves between Bermuda and the U.S. East Coast.

Maria is not expected to threaten the United States mainland.

Maria was lashing the eastern end of the Dominican Republic with strong winds and heavy rain overnight. The eye was about 70 miles north of the resort town of Punta Cana at 5 a.m. and moving northwest at about 9 mph.

Even as the storm moved away from Puerto Rico, the island was still being hit with heavy rain bands on Thursday. Storm surge was receding from Puerto Rico on Thursday, but the U.S. territory was hit with 20 to 30 inches of rain in 24 hours, with some areas seeing 35 inches locally. Maria came ashore as a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds — the first Category 4 storm to hit the island since 1932.

A spokesperson for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said early Thursday he was with a National Guard unit in Levittown, a coastal suburb of San Juan, where residents have  retreated to rooftops due to flooding, and as many as 80 percent of homes suffered damage.

The storm knocked out power to the entire island, and the executive director of emergency management on the island said telecommunications had “collapsed.”

Rossello imposed a curfew on the island from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. through Saturday.

President Donald Trump tweeted a message of support for the island late Wednesday, which was reciprocated by Rossello. The governor also spoke to Vice President Mike Pence by phone on Wednesday.

Puerto Rico narrowly missed a landfall by Hurricane Irma two weeks ago, with the Category 5 storm traveling just north of the U.S. territory. The island suffered heavy rain and wind, but nothing approaching the widespread damage incurred by Maria.

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