Storm strengthens near Caribbean

The storm had top sustained winds of nearly 60 mph (96 kph) as it passed over the northernmost Leeward Islands, and was expected to gather strength as it moved west-northwest in the direction of the Virgin Islands, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

A hurricane center advisory issued at 0600 GMT said that "Chris could become a hurricane later today." To be a hurricane, the storm must reach sustained winds of at least 74 mph (119 kph).

A tropical storm warning remained in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis, the French territory of St. Barthelemy, St. Maarten and Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, forecasters said. The warnings would likely be canceled later Wednesday.

Long-range forecasts put the storm anywhere from south of Cuba to Florida by late in the weekend.

As skies darkened and rain began to fall, people began the familiar ritual of stocking up on gas, food and candles. Tourists at a resort just outside the Antiguan capital said they had no plans to evacuate, the AP reports.

At 0600 GMT, the storm was centered about 65 miles (105 kilometers) east northeast of St. Maarten in the Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 10 mph (16 kph).

The U.S.National Weather Service said Puerto Rico would begin to experience strong gusts of wind and heavy rain Wednesday afternoon. The Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico could receive up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain and could experience flash floods and mudslides, forecasters said.

In the central Antiguan village of All Saints, people were determined to spend the night celebrating the annual Carnival festival, which locals refer to as "the dance."