Powerful Hurricane Matthew continues its northward trek toward Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba, where officials are urging people to stock up on emergency supplies and evacuate threatened areas.
“It’s important for individuals to know that we will be severely affected, certainly in the eastern part of Jamaica,” Angela Browne Burke, mayor of the capital of Kingston, said to CBC on Sunday afternoon about the Category 4 storm.
On Monday, the storm is expected to strike the southwestern tip of Haiti and eastern parts of Cuba after sweeping over the eastern tip of Jamaica, according to the latest projections.
Civil protection officials in Haiti are broadcasting warnings about the hurricane, urging families to prepare emergency food and water kits.
Matthew is expected to reach Cuba late Monday or early Tuesday, potentially making a direct hit on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where a mandatory evacuation of non-essential personnel was underway on Sunday.
“This time next week, Halifax may be bracing for the arrival of Matthew,” in time for the Thanksgiving Day weekend, said Chris St. Clair of the Weather Network.
The Category 4 storm is one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent history and briefly reached the top classification, Category 5, early Saturday, becoming the strongest hurricane here since Felix in 2007.
In Haiti, deforestation has greatly increased the potential for devastating floods and landslides and the country’s ramshackle homes and buildings are vulnerable to storms.
In Cuba, Guantanamo Bay authorities are removing non-essential personnel from the military base, including about 700 family members of those serving there.
Everyone remaining behind was being told to take shelter, said spokeswoman Julie Ann Ripley. There are about 5,500 people living on the base, including 61 men held at the detention centre.
The forecast track would also carry Matthew into the Bahamas, with an outside chance of a brush with Florida, though that would be several days away.
“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 National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Haiti on high alert
In Haiti, civil protection officials broadcast warnings of a coming storm surge and big waves, saying the country would be “highly threatened” from the approaching system, and they urged people to prepare emergency food and water kits.
Emergency management authorities banned boating, particularly along the southern coastline.
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.
In the coastal town of Port Royal, officials urged residents to seek refuge in government shelters and people in Kingston crowded supermarkets to buy bottled water, canned food, flashlights and batteries.
“It has been chaos from the morning,” said Melain Azan, owner of the Azan Super Centre.
Shopper Nardia Powell said she was stocking up because she learned a hard lesson when she was unprepared for Hurricane Ivan in 2004, as were many others. “So, I just want to be on the safe side, right?” she said.
As of 8 a.m. ET, the storm was centred 545 kilometres south-southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It was travelling north-northwest at 7 km/h.
Earlier, two deaths were blamed on the storm as it pushed through the eastern Caribbean and skimmed past the northern tip of South America.
Damage appeared minimal despite flooding in towns along Colombia’s La Guajira peninsula. Some officials were even grateful for the rain after a multi-year drought.
“Families that evacuated are returning to their homes,” said La Guajira Gov. 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.”
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