The storm grew into a hurricane on Sunday, and forecasters said it was expected to become much stronger over the next 48 hours, following a path that would take it near many of the islands wrecked by Hurricane Irma and on to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti
Hurricane Maria heads toward already battered Caribbean islands
A strengthening Hurricane Maria swirled toward the eastern Caribbean early on Monday, with forecasters warning it would probably be a major storm by the time it passed through the already battered Leeward Islands later in the day.
Maria grew into a hurricane on Sunday, and forecasters said it was expected to become much stronger over the next 48 hours, following a path that would take it near many of the islands wrecked by Hurricane Irma and on to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Hurricane warnings were posted for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St Eustatius and St Lucia. Other islands were warned to stay alert for changes in the storm. Hurricane watches were up in the United States and British Virgin Islands, the island shared by French St Martin and Dutch St Maarten, St Barts and Anguilla.
The US National Hurricane Centre said Maria had maximum sustained winds of 140 kilometres per hour late on Sunday. It was centered about 165 kilometres north-east of Barbados and heading west-north-west at 20kph.
The hurricane centre said hurricane conditions should begin to affect parts of the Leeward Islands by Monday night, with storm surge raising water levels by 1.2 to 1.8 metres near the storm's centre. Maria was predicted to bring 15 to 30 centimetres of rain across the islands, with more in isolated areas.
Maria could make a direct hit on Puerto Rico, which was spared the full brunt of Irma although much of the island had its power knocked out.
Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello said officials had prepared about 450 shelters with a capacity for nearly 68,000 people — or even 125,000 in an emergency. He said schools were cancelled for Monday and government employees would work only a half day.
Officials in the Dominican Republic, meanwhile, urged people to leave areas prone to flooding and said fishermen should remain in port.
Farther north, long-lived Hurricane Jose continued to head northward off the US east coast, causing dangerous surf and rip currents. It wasn't expected to make landfall but tropical storm watches were posted along the coast from Delaware to Massachusetts' Cape Cod.
Jose was centred about 490 kilometres south-east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and was moving north at 15kph. It had maximum sustained winds of 150kph.
In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Norma's threat to Mexico's Los Cabos resort area at the southern end of the Baja California peninsula seemed to ease as forecasters said the storm's centre was likely to remain offshore.
Norma had winds of about 85kph and it was centered about 225 kilometres south-south-west of Cabo San Lucas. That area was hit two weeks ago by Tropical Storm Lidia, which flooded streets and homes and killed at least four people.
The Baja California Sur state government prepared storm shelters and cancelled classes for Monday.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lee weakened into a tropical depression far out in the Atlantic while Otis strengthened into a hurricane out in the Pacific. Neither threatened land.