This photo taken Thursday shows damaged boats at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma on Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands. (Guillermo Houwer via AP)

This photo taken Thursday shows damaged boats at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma on Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands. (Guillermo Houwer via AP)

Strengthening Hurricane Maria a threat to Irma-hit Caribbean

Hurricane or tropical storm warnings were posted Sunday for many of the islands.

Associated Press

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — The islands of the eastern Caribbean prepared Sunday to face another potential disaster, with forecasters saying newly formed and likely to strengthen Hurricane Maria was headed for a hit on the Leeward Islands by Monday night.

Hurricane or tropical storm warnings were posted for many of the islands, including those already coping with the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, such as St. Barts and Antigua and Barbuda.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria was expected to gain power and could be near major hurricane strength while crossing through the Leeward Islands late Monday on a path aiming toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph Sunday evening. It was centered about 255 miles east-southeast of Dominica and heading west-northwest at 15 mph (24 kph).

The hurricane center said hurricane conditions should begin to affect parts of the Leeward Islands by Monday night, with storm surge raising water levels by 4 to 6 feet near the storm’s center. The storm was predicted to bring 6 to 12 inches of rain across the islands, with more in isolated areas.

It could make a direct hit on Puerto Rico, which was spared the full brunt of Irma, though power was knocked out to much of the island.

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.

Meanwhile, long-lived Hurricane Jose was moving northward off the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard, kicking up dangerous surf and rip currents. It wasn’t expected to make landfall but tropical storm watches were posted for all of the coast from Delaware to Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.

Jose was centered about 315 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and was moving north at 9 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.

In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Norma’s threat to Mexico’s Los Cabos area appeared to be easing. Forecasters said the storm’s center was likely to remain offshore.

Norma had winds of about 50 mph and it was centered about 140 miles (220 kilometers) 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 readied storm shelters and canceled classes for Monday as well as calling off a Mexican Independence Day military parade in the state capital, La Paz.

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.

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