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MIAMI (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Earl bulked up to hurricane strength on a track toward islands in the eastern Caribbean on Sunday, while Hurricane Danielle weakened to a Category 1 storm, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Earl reached hurricane status early Sunday and had winds of 85 miles per hour by early evening, when it was about 240 miles east of St Martin and moving westward.
Warnings advising of high winds and other hurricane conditions within 24 hours went up on popular tourist islands, including Antigua, St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and St. Maarten, the hurricane center said. Earl was moving at 14 mph.
Forecasts showed Earl soon strengthening to a major hurricane and turning west-northwest before accelerating northward off the U.S. East Coast later in the week, far from the oil-producing Gulf Coast region.
"Additional strengthening is expected during the next 48 hours, and Earl is forecast to become a major hurricane on Monday," the forecasters said. "The center of Earl will pass near or over the northernmost Leeward Islands tonight and Monday."
Government officials also issued hurricane watches cautioning of possible hurricane weather within 36 hours for the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, including the islands of Culebra and Vieques.
Caribbean airline LIAT canceled 41 flights to several destinations in the eastern Caribbean and shut down its reservation service because of Earl's approach, according to a company statement.
Now far at sea, Hurricane Danielle had been a major Category 4 storm before weakening to a Category 1 and was about 605 miles south of Newfoundland early Sunday evening. Its top sustained winds fell to 80 mph, after moving past the British island territory of Bermuda and further from North America's East Coast.
Danielle was expected to weaken gradually in the next two days and lose its tropical characteristics.
The hurricane center said it expected large waves and dangerous surf conditions to diminish near Bermuda on Sunday and subside slowly along the U.S. East Coast within the next two days.
"It looks like we dodged a bullet," Bermuda bank employee Stuart Roberts, 31, said of Danielle.
Forecasters in Miami were also watching a low pressure system of storms midway between Africa and the Lesser Antilles that was likely to come together as a tropical depression at any time. They predicted the unnamed system had an 80 percent likelihood of becoming a tropical storm during the next two days.
Reporting by Michael Connor; additional reporting by Linda Hutchinson in Port of Spain, Peter Cooney in Washington and Sam Strangeways in Bermuda; Editing by Eric Walsh