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Hurricane Maria regains strength off North Carolina as Lee becomes major storm

WAVES, N.C. -- The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says Maria has regained strength and become a hurricane once again as it lingers off the coast of North Carolina. 

Reports from an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft indicate that Maria's top sustained winds are near 75 mph, with higher gusts. 

The center of Hurricane Maria is about 165 miles off Cape Hatteras, and hurricane-force winds remain offshore, extending outward up to 105 miles. But tropical storm-force winds extend for as much as 230 miles from the center, covering the water on both sides of the narrow barrier islands of Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Maria's forward speed is just 6 mph, so the storm is taking its time to swing north and away from the U.S. Atlantic coast.

Officials say Maria is predicted to erode more than half the dunes along North Carolina's 300-mile coast. Beaches in Maryland and Virginia could fare even worse.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Lee became the fifth major storm of the 2017 hurricane season, strengthening to a Category 3 storm. Lee is 1,765 miles west of the Azores and poses no threat to land, the NHC said.