KINGSTON, Jamaica – Hurricane Matthew, a potentially devastating Category 4 storm, swirled across the Caribbean toward Haiti and Jamaica, where residents frantically stocked up on emergency supplies and authorities urged people to evacuate threatened areas.
Matthew is one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent history and briefly reached the top classification, Category 5, before weakening slightly to a high-end Category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph. It is the strongest hurricane here since Felix in 2007.
While previous forecasts had Matthew passing near or over the eastern tip of Jamaica, the latest projection has it shifting 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 ramshackle structure of many homes and buildings, this means that Matthew could deal a vicious blow to the country.
After passing Jamaica and Haiti, Matthew is expected to reach Cuba on Tuesday, potentially making a direct hit on the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay.
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 spokeswoman. There are about 5,500 people living on the base, including 61 men held at the detention center.
“It’s too early to rule out what impacts, if any, would occur in the United States and Florida,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman at the Hurricane Center.
In Jamaica, flooding temporarily closed the road linking the capital to its airport. Carl Ferguson, head of the marine police, said people were starting to heed calls to relocate from small islands and areas near rural waterways.
Earlier, Matthew skimmed past the northern tip of South America, where there were reports of at least two deaths.