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Hurricane Maria bears down on storm-battered eastern Caribbean

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Hurricane Maria blasted towards the storm-battered eastern Caribbean and was expected to strengthen Monday as it churned along a path similar to that of mega storm Irma earlier in the month. The new storm, which the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned could become a “major hurricane”, threatens the French territory of Guadeloupe, the staging area for relief operations for several islands hit by Irma.

Guadeloupe was going on “red alert” Monday with schools, businesses and government offices ordered closed, as was neighboring Martinique. Each has a population of around 400,000 people. The hurricane is expected to hit at around midday local time. Warnings were also triggered for Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis and the British island of Montserrat.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb warned in Paris on Sunday that “we will have major difficulties” if Guadeloupe is hard hit, noting that the territory was “the logistical center from where we could supply St Martin and organise all the airlifts.”

Irma killed 15 people on St Martin, an island shared by France and the Netherlands. Officials in Guadeloupe predicted severe flooding in low-lying areas and urged residents to move to higher ground. France, Britain and the Netherlands have been criticised for the pace of relief efforts and for struggling to contain lawlessness in their overseas territories amid widespread shortages of food, water and electricity after Irma.

Tropical storm warnings were in place in Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St Eustatius, and St Lucia. The tiny island of Barbuda was decimated by Hurricane Irma on September 5-6 when it made its first landfall in the Caribbean as a top-intensity Category Five storm.

The NHC said Maria could produce a “dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves” that would raise water levels by four to six feet (1.2 to 1.8 metres) when it passes through the eastern Caribbean.

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