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Hurricane Maria a growing threat to Irma-battered Caribbean

This Sept. 14, 2017, photo provided by Guillermo Houwer shows some damaged boats at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma on Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands.

Guillermo Houwer/AP

The islands of the eastern Caribbean prepared Sunday to face another potential disaster, with forecasters saying newly formed and strengthening 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 likely would 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.

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The storm had maximum sustained winds of 140 kph late Sunday. It was centred about 165 kilometres northeast of Barbados and heading west-northwest at 20 kph.

The hurricane centre said hurricane conditions should begin to affect parts of the Leeward Islands by Monday night, with storm surge raising water levels by 1.2 to 1.8 metres near the storm's centre. The storm was predicted to bring 15 to 30 centimetres 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 a tropical storm watch was posted for all of the coast from Delaware to Massachusetts' Cape Cod.

Jose was centred about 490 kilometres southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and was moving north at 15 kph. It had maximum sustained winds of 150 kph.

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In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Norma's threat to Mexico's Los Cabos area appeared to ease. Forecasters said the storm's centre was likely to remain offshore.

Norma had winds of about 85 kph and it was centred about 225 kilometres 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 cancelled 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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