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Hurricane Maria weakens to Category 1 storm, continues churning towards NC coast

The East Coast is bracing for a possible hit from Hurricane Maria, now a Category 1 storm, days after the storm caused widespread devastation in the Caribbean.

North Carolina may bear the worst of the storm, as current forecasts show Maria brushing its coast Wednesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Although it’s not currently predicted to make landfall along the coast, Maria is the third hurricane to affect the US in the last month.

A mandatory evacuation order for people visiting Ocracoke Island is in effect in advance of Hurricane Maria.

A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued for Surf City to the North Carolina-Virginia border. Forecasters expect “dangerous surf and rip currents” along southeastern US beaches over the next several days.

Swells generated by Hurricane Maria are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current condition. Those on the Carolina and mid-Atlantic coasts are warned to monitor the storm’s progress.

“Regardless of the exact forecast track,” the storm is so big that “tropical storm-force winds could reach a portion of the North Carolina coast by mid-week,” the NHC said.

Maria’s sustained winds weakened Monday to 80 mph from 105 mph earlier Sunday, the NHC said. The center said it expected the storm to weaken further by Monday night or Tuesday but would remain a storm packing a powerful punch.

“Swells generated by Maria are increasing along portions of the southeastern United States coast and Bermuda and will be increasing along the Mid-Atlantic coast later today,” the center said Sunday, warning that such swells can cause “life-threatening surf and rip currents.”

The five-day tracking model shows Maria maintaining hurricane strength through Friday as it makes it way north before turning northeast and heading further out into the Atlantic.

Millions of people in the Caribbean are still reeling from Hurricane Maria’s devastation. At least 10 people were killed in Puerto Rico, where much of the US territory is without power and many are without water.

That’s after the storm destroyed the island of Dominica, killing at least 15 people there. It also hammered the Dominican Republic, the US Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos, a British overseas territory.