Army soldiers from the 602nd Area Support Medical Company gather on a beach as they await transport on a Navy landing craft while evacuating in advance of Hurricane Maria in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas in US Virgin Islands. Photograph:( Reuters )
The Maimi-based NHC had earlier said Maria was a Category Two storm while it was approaching French territory of Guadeloupe. ||St Lucia, Dominica, St Kitts,?Nevis, British island of Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands were also put on alert.
US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Monday Maria had strengthened into a "major" Category Three hurricane with maximum wind speeds of 120 miles per hour as it battered eastern Caribbean still recovering from hurricane Irma.
The Maimi-based NHC had earlier said Maria was a Category Two hurricane while it was approaching French territory of Guadeloupe.
"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 hurricane could produce "a dangerous storm surge" along with "large and destructive waves", the forecaster added.
Hurricane Maria could raise water levels by six to nine feet when it cuts its path across the eastern Caribbean, NHC warned.
The region was put on high alert with schools and government officers ordered to remain closed.
St Lucia, Dominica, St Kitts, Nevis, British island of Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands were also put on alert.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said that "we will have major difficulties if Guadeloupe is hard hit, as it was the logistical centre from where we could supply St Martin and organise all the airlifts."
The Caribbean islands are still recovering from the impact of hurricane Irma which led to large-scale destruction and loss of lives.
Satellite image obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Hurricane Maria on September 18, 2017. (AFP)