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Maria strengthens into a ‘major’ Category 3 hurricane

Hurricane Maria is shown in the Atlantic Ocean about 85 miles east of Martinique in this September 17, 2017 Nasa handout satellite photo. — Nasa/handout pic via ReutersHurricane Maria is shown in the Atlantic Ocean about 85 miles east of Martinique in this September 17, 2017 Nasa handout satellite photo. — Nasa/handout pic via ReutersMIAMI, Sept 18 — Hurricane Maria strengthened to a ‘major’ Category Three storm today as it bore down on Caribbean islands still recovering from megastorm Irma.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said Maria was packing maximum sustained winds of 195 kilometres (120 miles) 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 (2300 in Malaysia) the storm was located about 95 kilometres (60 miles) east of Martinique, a French territory, and moving northwest at 17 kilometres per hour (10 miles per hour).

“Maria is expected to be a dangerous major hurricane as it moves through the Leeward Islands and the northeastern Caribbean Sea,” the NHC said.

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 metres) when it cuts its path across the eastern Caribbean.

Guadeloupe was going on “red alert” today 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. — AFP

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