Hurricane Maria has strengthened to a "potentially catastrophic" category five storm as it bears down on islands in the Caribbean and makes landfall in Dominica, with the island facing sustained winds of 260 kilometres per hour. Maria is moving roughly along the same track as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region this month.
Martinique declared a maximum-level alert while another French island, Guadeloupe, has ordered evacuations.
Hurricane warnings are in place for:
A former British colony with a population of 72,000 about half way between Guadeloupe and Martinique. The eye of the hurricane was about 15 miles (25km) east-south-east at midnight GMT.
The US territory expects Maria to make landfall as a category three on Tuesday. It escaped the worst of Irma and has been an important hub for getting relief to islands more badly affected. Governor Ricardo Rossello urged islanders to seek refuge.
US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands
Both island chains suffered severe damage from Irma and President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the US territories on Monday. British authorities fear debris left behind by Irma could be whipped up by the new storm and pose an extra threat.
Warnings are also in effect for St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and St Lucia while hurricane watches are in place for St Martin, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla.
The islands bearing the brunt of Maria are part of the Leeward Islands chain and include Antigua and Barbuda. The latter was evacuated after being devastated by Irma. Forecasters warned that heavy rainfall caused by the hurricane "could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides".
The British government said more than 1,300 troops were staying put in the region and an additional military team had been deployed to the British Virgin Islands.
In the French territory of Guadeloupe, schools, businesses and government buildings have all been closed and severe flooding is predicted. The French government has ordered low-lying areas on the islands to be evacuated, AFP reports.
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