The islands of the eastern Caribbean prepared Sunday to face another potential disaster, with forecasters saying newly formed and likely to strengthen Hurricane Maria was headed for a hit on the Leeward Islands by Monday night.

Hurricane or tropical storm warnings were posted for many of the islands, including those already coping with the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, such as St. Barts and Antigua and Barbuda.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria was expected to gain power and could be near major hurricane strength while crossing through the Leeward Islands late Monday on a path aiming toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Global Affairs Canada advised people to avoid all travel to the following:

  • Anguilla
  • British Virgin Islands
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Sint Maarten
  • Saint Martin
  • Saint Barthélemy

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 130 km/h Sunday evening. It was centred about 410 kilometres east-southeast of Dominica and heading west-northwest at 24 km/h.

The hurricane center said hurricane conditions should begin to affect parts of the Leeward Islands by Monday night, with storm surge raising water levels by 1.2 to 1.8 metres near the storm's center. The storm was predicted to bring 15 to 30 centimetres of rain across the islands, with more in isolated areas.

It could make a direct hit on Puerto Rico, which was spared the full brunt of Irma, though power was knocked out to much of the island.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said officials had prepared about 450 shelters with a capacity for nearly 68,000 people — or even 125,000 in an emergency. He said schools were cancelled for Monday and government employees would work only a half day.

Officials in the Dominican Republic urged people to leave areas prone to flooding and said fishermen should remain in port.

Meanwhile, long-lived Hurricane Jose was moving northward off the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard, kicking up dangerous surf and rip currents. It wasn't expected to make landfall but tropical storm watches were posted for all of the coast from Delaware to Massachusetts' Cape Cod.

Jose was centred about 510 kilometres southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and was moving north at 15 km/h. It had maximum sustained winds of 150 km/h.

In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Norma's threat to Mexico's Los Cabos area appeared to be easing. Forecasters said the storm's center was likely to remain offshore.

Norma had winds of about 85 km/h and it was centred about 220 kilometres south-southwest of Cabo San Lucas. That area was hit two weeks ago by Tropical Storm Lidia, which flooded streets and homes and killed at least four people.

The Baja California Sur state government readied storm shelters and canceled classes for Monday as well as calling off a Mexican Independence Day military parade in the state capital, La Paz.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lee weakened into a tropical depression far out in the Atlantic while Otis strengthened into a hurricane out in the Pacific. Neither threatened land

With files from CBC News