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Not yet a hurricane, but Chantal still wreaks havoc in Caribbean

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image from Monday shows Tropical Storm Chantal off the coast of Brazil. Ho / AFP - Getty Images

Fast-moving Tropical Storm Chantal raced toward the small islands of the Lesser Antilles on Tuesday, with residents of St. Lucia shuttering schools and preparing to close the island's two airports as it neared. 

The storm was centered about 45 miles north-northwest of Barbados around 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. The storm had maximum sustained winds near 50 mph, and was moving west-northwest at 26 mph. 

Tropical storm warnings are now also in effect for Puerto Rico, where the storm is predicted to hit late Tuesday night.

The storm may grow to hurricane strength when it reaches the island of Hispaniola, consisting of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, on Wednesday, according to the Hurricane Center.

Residents of the southeastern United States will have to pay attention to the storm, too, as current forecasts predict the storm moving north towards the Florida coast early next week.

However, current weather conditions in addition to the storm's predicted contact with land in the Caribbean, could slow Chantal before it hits the U.S. coast, the Weather Channel reports.

Chantal is the first storm of what is expected to be a busy hurricane season, which begins June 1st and lasts through the end of November. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.