A strengthening Hurricane Maria is churning toward the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean with forecasters warning it is expected to become a major hurricane.
Maria swiftly grew into a hurricane on Sunday (US time), and forecasters said it was expected to become much stronger over the coming hours following a path that would take it near many of the islands wrecked by Hurricane Irma and then on toward 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 Puerto Rico, the US 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 150 kph early on Monday. It was centred about 215 kilometres east-southeast of Dominica and heading west-northwest.
The hurricane centre said hurricane conditions should begin to affect parts of the Leeward Islands by Monday night, with storm surges raising water levels by up to 1.8 metres near the storm's centre.
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.
Farther north, long-lived Hurricane Jose continued to head northward off the US East Coast, causing dangerous surf and rip currents.