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Hurricane Maria strengthens to category three storm and heads for Caribbean

Hurricane Maria strengthened to a category 3 storm as it headed toward the Caribbean, where it was forecast to hit the Leeward Islands o...

Hurricane Maria strengthened to a category 3 storm as it headed toward the Caribbean, where it was forecast to hit the Leeward Islands on Monday night.

Maria was “rapidly” intensifying into a major hurricane, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. The storm’s center was about 60 miles (95km) east of Martinique, with maximum sustained winds of 120mph (195kph).

The storm is on a path that would take it near many of the islands wrecked by Hurricane Irma and on towards Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Hurricane warnings were posted for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique.

A hurricane watch was in effect for the US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Saba and St Eustatius, St Maarten, St Martin, St Barthélemy and Anguilla. A tropical storm warning was in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia and Martinique.

The NHC said would bring “dangerous wind, storm surge and rainfall hazard”.

Puerto Rico, a US territory, has a weakened economy and fragile power grid. The government of Puerto Rico has begun preparations for Maria, which is expected to make landfall there on Tuesday, officials said.

Maria is approaching the eastern Caribbean less than two weeks after Irma hammered the region before overrunning Florida. That category 4 storm killed at least 84 people, more than half of them in the Caribbean.

The NHC also issued a tropical storm watch for portions of the US mid-Atlantic and New England coast by Tuesday as a second hurricane, Jose, moved slowly north from its position in the Atlantic Ocean about 335 miles south-east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The eye of Jose, with top sustained winds of 90mph, should remain off the US east coast, the NHC said. Even so, by Tuesday it could bring tropical storm conditions from Fenwick Island, Delaware, to Sandy Hook, New Jersey and from East Rockaway Inlet on New York’s Long Island to the Massachusetts island of Nantucket.

Up to 5in (12cm) of rain could fall over parts of the area, and the storm could bring dangerous surf and rip currents as well.

On Monday the ocean was washing over parts of North Carolina’s Outer Banks as Hurricane Jose passed well to the east. The state transportation department said in a Facebook post that the affected areas encompassed Pea Island, Rodanthe, Avon and Hatteras village on Hatteras Island.

In the north-east, in Rhode Island, five people were knocked off a coastal jetty by high surf caused by Jose. Capt Nelson Upright of the Narragansett fire department told WPRI-TV the injuries ranged from minor to “pretty major”. Rescuers had to fight through rough surf, he said, to load the injured on to stretchers and get them to shore. All five were taken to hospital.

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