Hurricane Maria has strengthened to a category three storm, and is forecast to hit the Leeward Islands late today, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) says.

It is moving roughly along the same path as Irma, the category five hurricane that devastated the region this month, having left at least 37 people dead and caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage.

Hurricane warnings have been issued for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Martinique, St. Lucia, U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

A hurricane watch is now in effect for Puerto Rico, St. Martin, St. Barts, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla.

In its latest update today, the NHC said that Maria had maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour and gusts of 150 miles per hour. As of 11:00am it was about 60 miles east of Martinique.

In just three hours, Maria’s maximum sustained winds jumped from 90 miles per hour to 110 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said.

Maria’s first landfall is expected around 8pm in the northeast Caribbean’s Leeward Islands — specifically Dominica and Guadeloupe.

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