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Miami, Florida (CNN) — Hurricane Earl was slowly strengthening in the Atlantic on Monday as it passed over the northern Leeward Islands on its way to the Virgin Islands, forecasters said.

Earl remained a Category 2 hurricane as of Monday, but its winds were getting stronger, the National Hurricane Center said. As of 8 a.m. ET, Earl’s maximum sustained winds were at 110 mph (175 kph) with higher gusts.

Its center was about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of St. Martin and about 140 miles (220 km) east of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was moving west-northwest at 14 mph (22 kph).

“On the forecast track, the center of Earl will pass near or over the northernmost Leeward Islands this morning and near the Virgin Islands this afternoon and this evening,” the Hurricane Center said. The storm is expected to turn northwest on Tuesday.

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Additional strengthening is forecast, and Earl is expected to become a major Category 3 hurricane later Monday, forecasters said.

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 50 miles (85 kilometers) from the storm’s center, and tropical storm-force winds extended out 175 miles (280 kilometers).

“St. Maarten recently reported a sustained wind of 41 mph (67 kph) with a gust to 61 mph (98 kph),” the Hurricane Center said Monday.

Hurricane conditions were spreading across the northern Leeward Islands, and are headed for the Virgin Islands, forecasters said.

Hurricane warnings were in effect for Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, St. Martin/St. Maarten, St. Barthelemy, Saba, St. Eustatius and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. A hurricane watch and tropical storm warning were in effect for Puerto Rico, including the islands of Vieques and Culebra.

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