Hurricane Irma maintains strength as it nears the Leeward Islands

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Hurricane Irma has maintained strength as a major category three storm as it moves closer to the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean, forecasters say, prompting hurricane watches for a number of islands.

As of 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, the center of Irma was located about 760 miles (1,220 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC). Its maximum sustained winds are near 115 miles (185 kilometers) per hour with higher gusts.

Forecasters expect Irma to reach the northeastern Leeward Islands as a category three or four hurricane on late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. Hurricane watches have been issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Martin, and Saint Barthélemy.

“Residents in these areas should monitor the progress of Irma and listen to advice given by officials,” said Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. He said additional hurricane or tropical storm watches could be issued on Monday.

After reaching the Leeward Islands, Irma could directly or indirectly affect the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas. Residents have been urged to monitor the storm’s developments as uncertainty remains over Irma’s exact path.

It is still too early to determine whether Irma will have a direct impact on the continental United States, but Brown noted that strong winds and heavy rainfall extend well away from the center of Irma. Unofficial weather models suggest that Florida will experience at least some of the hurricane’s effects.

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