The most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade has churned towards Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba on a path forecasters say could reach the eastern United States. The US Navy is evacuating its Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Sunday that "powerful Matthew" was "moving slowly north-northwestward" from the Caribbean coast of Colombia and Venezuela at a speed of 6 miles (nine kilometers) per hour. The Category 4 hurricane makes it the strongest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade.
The storm is forecast to dump 15 to 25 inches (38-63 cm) of rain over southern Haiti, "with possible isolated maximum amounts of 40 inches." The storm is also expected to drop 10 to 20 inches of rain over eastern Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and eastern Cuba, "with possible isolated maximum amounts of 25 inches (64 centimeters)."
"This rainfall will likely produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides," the statement warned.
In Jamaica, residents waited in long lines at supermarkets, hardware stores and gas stations Saturday to stock up on essentials before the storm's arrival. "This is not a joking matter," Desmond McKenzie, minister of local government and community development, warned island residents.
"There is no room for any mischief to be made as we face one of the most severe natural disasters in quite a long while," he added.
Residents nail boards over a storefront window as protection against hurricane Matthew in Jamaica's capital city Kingston, Saturday, October 1, 2016.
Jamaica battens down the hatches
Latest projections say the storm will shift eastward and possibly striking the southwestern tip of Haiti on Monday. A hurricane warning has been issued for the impoverished country which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.
Deforestation has greatly increased the potential for devastating floods and landslides on Haiti, and combined with the poor state of homes and buildings, this means that Matthew could deal a vicious blow to the country.
Guantanamo Bay US naval base evacuating
Matthew is expected to reach Cuba on Tuesday, potentially making a direct hit on the US Navy base at Guantanamo Baywhere a mandatory evacuation of non-essential personnel, including about 700 family members of military personnel, was underway at the base and everyone remaining behind was being told to take shelter, said Julie Ann Ripley, a naval base spokeswoman.
There are about 5,500 people living on the base, including 61 men held at the detention center.
Earlier, Matthew skimmed past the northern tip of South America where there were reports of at least two fatalities. Authorities in that region say they are relieved as damage appeared minimal despite flooding in towns along the La Guajira peninsula of Colombia.
The rain was actually welcomed by many after a multi-year drought in the poverty-stricken area.
"Families that evacuated are returning to their homes," said La Guajira Governor Jorge Velez. "The dikes and wells filled up, the earth is moist, and this benefits agriculture in an area where it hasn't rained for five years, benefiting the community."
jar/rc (AP, AFP)