Hurricane Maria strengthens as it nears Caribbean islands


Hurricane Maria has strengthened to a major category 3 hurricane, US forecasters say, as it heads towards the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.

Maria is moving roughly along the same path as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region this month.

It is due to hit on Monday night local time.

Hurricane warnings have been issued for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Martinique, St Lucia and the US and British Virgin Islands.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Puerto Rico, St Martin, St Barts, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla.

Some of these islands are still recovering after being hit by Irma – a category five hurricane which left at least 37 people dead and caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage.

the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that Maria had maximum sustained winds of 195 km/h (120mph).

The eye of the storm is 100 miles east of Martinique, and Maria is moving west-northwest at about 13mph.

“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the NHC said.

In the French territory of Guadeloupe, schools, businesses and government buildings have all been closed and severe flooding is predicted in low-lying parts of the islands.

Preparations have also begun in Puerto Rico, where Maria is expected to bring strong winds on Tuesday.

The most southerly point of the Leeward Islands – where Maria will first strike – includes Antigua and Barbuda. The latter island was evacuated after being devastated by Irma.

The NHC says that “a dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves will raise water levels by as much as 1.5-2.1m (5-7ft) above normal tide levels near where the centre of Maria moves across the Leeward Islands”.

It also forecasts a maximum potential rainfall of 51cm (20in) in some areas of the central and southern Leeward Islands – including Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands – through to Wednesday night.

“Rainfall on all of these islands could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” it warned.

Earlier this month, Irma left more than two-thirds of homes on the Dutch side of the island of St Martin (known as Sint Maarten) uninhabitable, with no electricity, gas or drinking water.

The French government has said its side of St Martin – known as Saint-Martin – sustained about €1.2bn ($1.44bn; £1.1bn) in damage, with nine deaths across Saint-Martin and nearby St Barts.

The Puerto Rican government has issued a statement saying it expects the hurricane to make landfall there as a category three on Tuesday.

The US territory escaped the worst of the damage from Irma – although it experienced widespread power cuts – and it has been an important hub for getting relief to islands that were more badly affected.

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