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Maria hits U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico prepares for impact

Staff Writer |
Hurricane Maria slammed into the US Virgin Islands Tuesday, lashing the archipelago with rain as Puerto Rico braced for the Category Five storm's expected landfall on Wednesday.

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On St John Island, which was also battered by Hurricane Irma two weeks ago, locals reported seeing trees dramatically swaying in swirling winds, with rain pouring "sideways."

Maria's 160 mile (255 kilometer) per hour winds had already roared into the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica Tuesday, with official communications to the island completely cut off in the wake of the storm.

Puerto Rico faced Wednesday what officials said could be the strongest hurricane to ever hit the U.S. territory.

"This is going to be an extremely violent phenomenon," Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. "We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history."

The number of power outages spiked as Maria approached, with the storm centered early Wednesday about 70 miles (115 kilometers) southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and moving northwest at 10 mph (17 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

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