Weakening Tropical Storm Danny churns toward Leeward Islands

Tropical Storm Danny weakened Sunday and was poised to bring winds and rainfall to parts of the Caribbean.

Sunday afternoon, the center of the storm was located about 208 miles (332 kilometers) east of Marie-Galante, an island dependency of Guadeloupe. It was moving toward the west near 15 mph (24 kph). The National Hurricane Center in Miami said it would move to west-northwest through Tuesday.

Danny was expected to move near or over portions of the Leeward Islands late Sunday or early Monday.

Maximum sustained winds were near 50 mph (85 kph) with higher gusts. The storm was expected to lose strength.

The hurricane center said tropical-storm-force winds were expected to affect Guadeloupe and nearby islands through late Sunday. Danny was forecast to produce 2 inches to 4 inches of rain over the Leeward Islands, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico through Tuesday.

Forecasters said the storm would become a tropical depression before reaching Puerto Rico, bringing little relief to the drought-stricken U.S. territory.

Nearly 25 percent of Puerto Rico is considered to be in an extreme drought, and another 45 percent is under a severe one, according to The National Drought Mitigation Center. A total of 2.9 million people in Puerto Rico have been affected, and U.S. officials have declared at least 20 of the island's 78 municipalities as disaster zones.

U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp said officials were distributing sandbags and had opened shelters as a precaution.

The approaching storm forced Antigua-based airline LIAT to cancel nearly 40 flights from Sunday to Tuesday, and officials with regional carrier Seaborne Airlines also warned of delays and cancelations. Several cruise ships scheduled to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands have canceled or delayed their trips.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla. A tropical storm watch was in effect for Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra and the U.S. Virgin Islands.