Hurricane Maria heading towards Caribbean islands hit by Irma

Officials say the latest storm is seeing sustained winds of up to 140km/h

Hurricane Maria heading towards Caribbean islands hit by Irma

Image: NHC

Caribbean islands that were badly hit by Hurricane Irma are in the path of a new hurricane strengthening in the west Atlantic.

The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) predicts that Hurricane Maria, which is currently category one, is heading straight for the Leeward Islands.

Forecasters are warning it will probably be a major storm by the time it passes through the Leewards late on Monday (local time).

Many of the islands in its predicted path - including the British Virgin Islands, St Kitts and Nevis and Anguilla - are still recovering after being battered by one of the strongest hurricanes in recorded history.

All three countries are on a hurricane warning or watch for Maria, along with Guadeloupe, Dominica and Martinique and the British overseas territory of Montserrat.

St Lucia, Antigua and Irma-ravaged Barbuda are on a warnings for winds of tropical storm strength.

The latest advisory from the NHC, issued at 11pm AST (4am Irish time), says the storm is seeing sustained winds of up to 85mph (140km/h).

It is expected to reach Martinique by 1pm Irish time on Monday, Guadeloupe by 7pm and St Kitts and Nevis by 1am on Tuesday.

The NHC advisory says: "On the forecast track, the centre of Maria will move across the Leeward Islands late Monday and Monday night and then over the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea Tuesday and Tuesday night.

"Rapid strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to become a major hurricane as it moves through the Leeward Islands."

Category one Hurricane Jose also remains in the east Atlantic, having turned north after leaving the Caribbean. It is off the coast of North Carolina.

As well as Hurricane Irma, America is also grappling with the impact of Hurricane Harvey, which left significant amounts of Texas under water due to excessively heavy rain.