Weather

Hurricane Maria threatens Caribbean after Irma

A strengthening storm is swirling towards the eastern Caribbean along a path similar to deadly Hurricane Irma.

Sea surface temperatures may provide enough energy to allow Maria to intensify into a Category 3 storm [Nasa/JPL/Cornell]

A new hurricane is bearing down on the eastern Caribbean, threatening dangerous storm surges and floods, less than two weeks after the region was devastated by Irma.

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) on Monday warned that the new storm, Maria, could become "a major hurricane".

The French territory of Guadeloupe, the staging area for relief operations for several islands hit by Irma, was on "red alert" on Monday.

Schools, businesses and government offices were ordered closed.

Warnings were also triggered for Dominica, St Kitts, Nevis, the British island of Montserrat and France's Martinique.

READ MORE: Macron - France will rebuild Saint Martin island after Irma

Maria is expected to hit the islands late on Monday, possibly strengthening to as much as a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of at least 209km/h. 

'Dangerous'

As of 06:00 GMT, Maria was a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds of 150km/h.

It is currently 250km east-southeast of Dominica and is moving at 20km/h, roughly along the same path as Irma.

Officials in Guadeloupe predicted severe flooding in low-lying areas and urged people living there to move to higher ground. 

The NHC said Maria could produce a "dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves" that will raise water levels 1.2 metres to 1.8 metres when it passes through the eastern Caribbean.

In the Guadeloupe capital, Pointe-a-Pitre, local official Josette Borel-Lincertain said authorities had plenty of experience preparing for hurricanes.

"We have a culture of risk, we know what needs to be done," she said.

France said an additional 110 soldiers would be deployed to the region to reinforce some 3,000 people already at work tackling security problems, rebuilding infrastructure and supplying food and water to hurricane-hit islanders.

The NHC also forecast a maximum potential rainfall of 51cm in the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands through Wednesday night - conditions that could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Like Irma, Maria is taking advantage of very favourable developmental conditions, including lack of wind shear and warmer oceans.

Sea surface temperatures were running at 29 to 30 degrees centigrade early on Monday, providing enough energy to allow Maria to intensify into a Category 3 storm, with sustained winds of at least 178km/h.

Irma, a Category 5 hurricane which broke weather records, killed 40 people in the Caribbean before churning west and pounding Florida, where at least 20 people were killed.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies