Battered islands in crosshairs as Maria becomes hurricane

Hurricane Maria is forecast to become a major hurricane — Category 3 or higher — before it hits the Leeward Islands

Dominica, an island of 75,000 people in the eastern Caribbean, planned to shut schools, businesses and all government offices except emergency services Monday, said Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit in a national address.

Hurricane Irma broke weather records when it sustained winds of 295 kilometers per hour (183 miles per hour) for more than 33 hours.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday the storm is growing in strength as it approaches land.

Soldiers from the 602nd area support medical company wait on a beach for a Navy landing craft as their unit evacuates in advance of Hurricane Maria in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands on Sunday.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Martin and Anguilla.

The NHC said Maria could produce a "dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves" that would raise water levels by four to six feet (1.2 to 1.8 metres) when it passes through the eastern Caribbean.

Up to 12 inches of rain is predicted to fall, with "isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches" expected to hit the British Virgin Islands through Wednesday night.

The eye of Hurricane Maria is forecast to pass over the center of Puerto Rico on Wednesday
View Slideshow The eye of Hurricane Maria is forecast to pass over the center of Puerto Rico on Wednesday. National Hurricane Center

"On the forecast track, the center of Maria will move across the Leeward Islands Monday night and then over the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea on Tuesday", it said.

On Wednesday, Maria was expected to be near or over Puerto Rico, which was spared the full brunt of Irma, although much of the island had its power knocked out.

"We are under no illusions about the possible impact of Hurricane Maria and are taking every measure possible to prepare communities which have already been devastated by Hurricane Irma", she said.

"This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic, and our main focus - our only focus right now - should be to make sure we save lives".

Rossello said officials had prepared about 450 shelters with a capacity for almost 68,000 people - or even 125,000 in an emergency. Schools were cancelled for Monday and government employees would work only a half day. High surf is expected all along the East Coast of the U.S. Jose should take a hard turn into the Atlantic and begin to weaken further by Friday and Saturday.

While Jose is not forecast to make landfall in the United States, due to its large size, risky surf and rip currents are likely for the Atlantic coast and a tropical storm watch has been issued from DE to MA. It had maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (140 kph).

THE United States and the Caribbean are bracing themselves for TWO more hurricanes and a series of tropical storms.

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