Miami: Hurricane Maria strengthened to a “major” Category Three storm on Monday as it bore down on Caribbean islands still recovering from megastorm Irma.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Maria was packing maximum sustained winds of 120 miles (195 kilometers) per hour.
A hurricane warning was issued for the French territory of Guadeloupe, which has been the staging area for relief operations for several islands battered by Irma.
Hurricane warnings were also issued for Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Martinique, St Lucia, and the US and British Virgin Islands.
As of 1500 GMT the storm was located about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of Martinique, a French territory, and moving northwest at 10 miles per hour (17 kilometers per hour).
The agency said the storm could produce “a dangerous storm surge” along with “large and destructive waves” that could raise water levels by six to nine feet (1.8 to 2.7 meters) when it cuts its path across the eastern Caribbean.
Guadeloupe was going on “red alert” Monday with schools, businesses and government offices ordered closed, as was neighboring Martinique. Each has a population of around 400,000 people.
Maria is menacing the vulnerable island region just after Irma unleashed fury there, leaving some 40 people dead in the Caribbean before pounding Florida and killing at least 20.