Maria, 9 days a hurricane, now a tropical storm

WAVES, North Carolina (AP) – The Latest on Hurricane Maria (all times local):

5:10 p.m.

Maria has finally become just a tropical storm. The latest update from the National Hurricane Center says Maria’s top sustained winds have dropped Tuesday to near 70 mph (115 kph), ending a nine-day run as a hurricane.

The center remained far offshore, centered about 160 miles (260 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and moving north at 7 mph (11 kph). Still, a tropical storm warning was in effect for the North Carolina coast from Bogue Inlet to the Virginia border, and meteorologists said a storm surge could hit from Ocracoke Inlet to Cape Hatteras.

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4:55 p.m.

The U.S. Geological Survey says two-thirds of the beaches in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland have a high chance of eroding as Hurricane Maria swirls offshore.

Maria’s strength is diminishing, but oceanographer Joseph Long says its strong winds are still generating large waves that will hit the coastline from North Carolina to Maryland’s eastern shore. As the storm moves north, those large waves will erode beaches and in some cases “overwash” the dunes that protect coastal communities.

The USGS Coastal Change forecast shows about 60 percent of North Carolina dunes will be eroded, and 5 percent of that coastline will be under sea water.

In Virginia, it shows two-thirds of the beaches north of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay are likely to erode, and a third overwashed.

And in Maryland, high water could reach and erode sand dunes along two thirds of the coastline, with less than 5 percent of the dunes overwashed.

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3:40 p.m.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has been able to reach most of her family in Puerto Rico, after several days of trying.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg says Sotomayor’s relatives are doing OK as the U.S. territory struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria.

Sotomayor shared her concerns last week because she couldn’t contact about half her relatives after Maria walloped the island.

Sotomayor’s parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico before she was born.

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3 p.m.

Hurricane Maria is pushing high surf over North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where more than 10,000 visitors were told to leave the islands.

The evacuation orders don’t apply to local residents, who are now resigning themselves to more flood damage after a double pounding by last year’s tropical weather.

Sarah Midgett lost her car during Hermine and her home was severely damaged by Matthew’s floods. This year, Jose pounded the dunes, and now Maria is sending waves past this weakened natural barrier, flowing under homes. She says “it’s insane how much the beach has eroded.”

Meanwhile, in the town of Waves, kite surfing instructors had been booked solid this week, but lost all their reservations after tourists were forced to evacuate. Adrienne Kina, who normally works as a saleswoman at REAL Watersports, says this storm “is going to screw” the locals all over again.

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2:40 p.m.

The federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs of debris removal and other emergency assistance to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

President Donald Trump made the change Tuesday as part of an amendment to his earlier disaster declaration authorizing federal aid. U.S. states and territories typically cover 25 percent of the costs, with the federal government paying the remaining 75 percent. But the island’s government is so strapped for cash that Puerto Rican officials and sympathetic members of Congress had called on Trump to waive the cost-sharing requirement.

Trump’s declaration covers the removal of downed trees, utility poles and other debris, as well as spending for emergency measures to protect lives and public health and safety.

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1:25 p.m.

It’s getting easier to leave Puerto Rico, where more than 3.4 million U.S. citizens still lack adequate food, water and fuel five days after Maria pounded the island as a Category 4 hurricane.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan is handling nearly 100 arrivals and departures daily, including military and relief operations as well as more than a dozen commercial passenger flights per day.

The agency is taking reservations for arrival and departure slots to manage space at the airport and safely separate aircraft in the air.

Maria destroyed or disabled a number of essential radar, navigation and communication systems, so the FAA has been bringing in replacements by air and sea, and technicians are working now to get them working.

The FAA says a long-range radar in the Turks and Caicos returned to service on Monday, giving air traffic controllers a much better picture of planes and helicopters in the region. Meanwhile, technicians are using chain saws to cut a path through a rain forest to reach a mountaintop where a second long-range radar site remains offline.

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12:45 p.m.

The Federal Highway Administration is helping Puerto Rico with damage assessments so that emergency relief money can help restore roads throughout the island.

The TS Kennedy, a former commercial freighter used by the Maritime Administration for training, is currently sailing from Texas to the Virgin Islands to support hurricane recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Island and Puerto Rico.

The Federal Transit Administration is working with FEMA on improving ferry service between Puerto Rico islands. As of Monday, limited ferry service was available during daylight hours to transport emergency supplies to Vieques and Culebra.

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11:55 a.m.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello says he’s spoken “as recently as last night” to President Donald Trump about the crisis Hurricane Maria caused on the island. He says he’s “confident the president understands the magnitude of the situation.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday at a Puma gas facility in San Juan, Rossello said “the president has offered a waiver on matching funds” for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which means the cash-strapped island won’t have to contribute to the initial costs of this federal help.

Rossello said he’d be speaking with Trump later today to discuss “a long-term recovery package for Puerto Rico to be presented to Congress,” apparently next week.

He also said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has offered to send a National Guard unit to aid in security

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9:45 a.m.

Officials in North Carolina estimate more than 10,000 people have left the Outer Banks as Hurricane Maria moves closer.

Dare County Emergency Management Director Drew Pearson said Tuesday morning that it’s impossible to get exact figures on how many people evacuated Hatteras Island after they were ordered to do so. But Pearson said officials think between 10,000 and 12,500 people have left the island ahead of the storm. Hatteras has a year-round population of about 500 people, who are not required to leave.

Pearson said the worst conditions were expected Wednesday into Thursday morning.

Hyde County officials said Monday they thought about 700 visitors would leave because of the evacuation ordered for Ocracoke Island. Ocracoke has a population of about 1,000 residents.

A tropical storm warning is in effect from Morehead City to the North Carolina-Virginia state line.

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7:30 a.m.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks are bracing for the effects of Hurricane Maria, even though the storm is expected to pass the state at least 150 miles (240 kilometers) offshore.

Schools were closed Tuesday in all of Dare County because of expected tropical storm conditions. Dare County includes much of the Outer Banks, as well as some inland areas along Pamlico Sound.

The National Weather Service in Morehead City, North Carolina, said significant beach erosion is expected north of Cape Lookout. Storm surge of between 2 feet (0.6 meters) and four feet (1 meter) is expected, mostly north of Cape Hatteras.

Officials ordered visitors to leave both Ocracoke and Hatteras islands ahead of the storm.

They warned dangerous rip currents were possible in the ocean for the rest of the week.

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6 a.m.

Hurricane Maria has weakened slightly as it moves northward in the Atlantic off the coast of the Carolinas.

Maria’s maximum sustained winds Tuesday morning are near 75 mph (120 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria is expected to keep gradually weakening and is forecast to become a tropical storm Tuesday night or Wednesday.

The storm is centered about 210 miles (340 kilometers) southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and is moving north at 7 mph (11 kph).

A tropical storm warning is in effect for a swath of the North Carolina coast from Bogue Inlet to the Virginia border.

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