Torrential rain and high winds have hit Jamaica ahead of fierce Hurricane Matthew which is making its way slowly over the Caribbean. Southern Haiti could see the worst of the hurricane.
Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba are preparing for the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew, the most dangerous hurricane to hit the Caribbean in years, with expected winds of up to 230 kph (145 mph) and life-threatening rain.
Residents in Haiti and Jamaica were urged to evacuate vulnerable coastal areas, and Cuba suspended flights on Sunday ahead of the expected arrival of the hurricane on Monday and Tuesday. Cubans have also been evacuated by boat from outlying islands.
In the Jamaican capital, Kingston, major roads and waterways flooded as the first bands of rain from Matthew hit the island. Car drivers pushed their stalled vehicles through streets that flooded within minutes of the rain's arrival.
The hurricane, measured at Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, was about 435 kilometers (270 miles) southeast of Kingston on Sunday afternoon, moving at 7 kph (5 mph) north and expected to turn north overnight. "Slow motion is almost always a bad thing for any land area impacted," John Cangialosi, a hurricane specialist at the US National Hurricane Center, told the Reuters news agency.
"The center of the system is looking more likely that it will pass to the east of Jamaica but it won't miss it by that much, so they are still going to see impacts," Cangialosi said. "The impacts are maybe going to be a little lower there than they would be in Haiti and eastern Cuba."
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said his government was mobilized, and about 80 percent of the 2.7 million island residents were ready for the storm. "The damage will have an impact on our economic growth, which is already fragile," he said, with agriculture, tourism and towns cut off by storm damage and landslides most at risk.
People have stocked up on canned food, water and batteries ahead of the hurricane. Banks and offices have boarded up their windows.
Haiti could see the worst of Matthew, according to Cangialosi. "Wherever that center passes close to would see the worst winds and that's what's projected to happen for the western tip of Haiti," he said. "There is a big concern for rains there and also a big concern for storm surge."
Haiti's civil protection agency said there were about 1,300 emergency shelters across the country, which could house
up to 340,000 people. There have been radio broadcasts of the need to evacuate.
"To those people living in houses that could collapse, it's necessary that you leave these houses to take refuge in schools and churches," interim President Jocelerme Privert said on state radio.
Up to 100 centimeters (40 inches) of rain could fall over southern Haiti, according to forecasts.
Stronger than Sandy
After passing Jamaica and Haiti, Matthew is expected to reach Cuba, with its center passing about 80 kilometers east of the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay.
Cuban President Raul Castro warned that Matthew was stronger than Hurricane Sandy, which hit Santiago de Cuba in 2012. "We have to prepare as if it has twice the power of Sandy," Castro was quoted as saying on a visit to the island's second-largest city.
Hundreds of Cuban soldiers have been mobilized and state workers have cut tree branches hanging over power lines and homes. Trains from Havana to the east of the island have been cancelled, and measures such as moving livestock to higher ground, taping up windows and storing drinking water have been encouraged ahead of the hurricane.
The US has airlifted about 700 spouses and children from its Guantanamo Bay base to Florida. The 61 remaining prisoners and the service personnel are to remain. "The remaining military and civilian personnel will shelter in place and be able to support recovery efforts once safe to do so following the storm's passage," the Navy said in a statement.
The US State Department has issued travel warnings for the Bahamas, Jamaica and Haiti. It has also authorized relatives of government workers and non-essential personnel to leave.
jm/cmk (Reuters, AP)