A strengthening Hurricane Maria swirled toward the eastern Caribbean islands Monday, with forecasters warning it would be a major storm by the time it passed through the already battered Leeward Islands later in the day.
Maria grew into a hurricane 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.
By 11 a.m. Monday morning, Maria was a Category 3 hurricane centred about 150 kilometres east of Martinique with top sustained winds of 195 km/h. It is moving west-northwest at 17 km/h, the National Hurricane Center said.
The eye of the storm is expected to move through the Leeward Islands late Monday afternoon or the evening and approach Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Wednesday, the hurricane centre said.
“Additional rapid strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to be a dangerous major hurricane as it moves through the Leeward Islands and the northeastern Caribbean Sea” the centre said.
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 U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the island shared by French St. Martin and Dutch St. Maarten, St. Barts and Anguilla.
Global Affairs Canada advised people to avoid all travel to the following:
- British Virgin Islands
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- St. Maarten
- St. Martin
- Saint Barthélemy
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 1.8 metres near the storm’s eye. The storm was predicted to bring up to 30 cm 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.
Gov. 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 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 U.S. 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.
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 85 km/h and it was centred about 225 km south-southwest 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.