MIAMI -- A hurricane watch is in effect for the British Virgin Islands, St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques as Hurricane Frances churns near the northern Leeward Islands.

Tropical storm warnings also have been issued for Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Nevis, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, St. Martin/Maarten, Saba and St. Barts. A hurricane watch indicates that hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours while a tropical storm warning indicates tropical storm conditions are favorable within 24 hours.

The category three storm, with sustained winds clocked at 125 mph, is expected to graze Puerto Ricos mainland and other islands of the northeastern Caribbean by Tuesday before plowing into the Bahamas later in the week. South Florida also could be a target for Frances.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John was closed Monday; many boat owners anchored their boats in a protected lagoon on St. John known as Hurricane Hole. Cruise ship calls in St. Thomas also have been affected with two lines canceling calls on Monday and Tuesday.

Elsewhere, tropical storm Gaston drenched the Carolinas over the weekend and moved up the East Coast. Meanwhile, tropical storm Hermine was headed for the north Atlantic in a weakened state.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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