Powerful Hurricane Matthew churns towards Jamaica, Haiti
MIAMI, United States — Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in a decade, churned towards Jamaica and Haiti Saturday on a path that forecasters said could eventually take it to the eastern United States.
Briefly a top threat overnight as a furious Category 5 storm on the 1-5 Saffir-Simpson scale, Matthew has now weakened into a still dangerous Category 4 hurricane, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.
That makes it the strongest Caribbean storm since Hurricane Felix in 2007.
“On the forecast track, the center of Matthew will move across the central Caribbean Sea today and Sunday, and approach Jamaica and southwestern Haiti Sunday night and Monday,” the NHC said in its 1800 GMT (2 a.m., Sunday) advisory.
Jamaicans waited in long lines at supermarkets, hardware stores and gas stations 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, told residents of the island.
“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.
Some Jamaicans voiced skepticism at the dire warnings, saying that in the past they had stockpiled supplies and hunkered down only to see the storm to pass.
“I am tired of wasting my money buying food, gas, boarding up my house,” said Michael Franklin, a taxi driver in Montego Bay.
“Then all we get is just a lot of rain and we can’t get back our money,” he added.
The hurricane was “meandering over the south-central Caribbean,” packing winds of 140 miles (220 kilometers) per hour, with higher gusts, the NHC said.
The center of the storm is located 380 miles south of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, and 400 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, the NHC said.
Current weather models showed it could eventually make its way to the US mainland, forecasters said.
“It is too soon to rule out possible hurricane impacts from Matthew in Florida,” the NHC said.
Heavy rain from Matthew “may produce life-threatening flash flooding and mud slides” in the affected area, the NHC warned, saying isolated areas could be lashed with up to 25 inches of rain.
The Jamaican government was placing some 2,000 homeless people in shelters, and the country’s waste management authority was working 24 hours a day to remove garbage, according to minister McKenzie.
He also said the army and army reserves had been called to help limit the damage, as hospitals throughout the island stood ready.
The US Embassy in Jamaica said it would be closed Monday and Tuesday for consular services “due to the anticipated effects of Hurricane Matthew.”
In Haiti, authorities advised residents of the country’s southern islands that they were “first at risk,” and urged them to prepare.
“We invite them to secure the area surrounding their homes and begin to stock up on water and food,” Edgar Celestin, a spokesman for the Haitian civil protection agency, told AFP.
Ocean swells with the potential to cause dangerous currents and rip tides are also possible over the next two days in coastal regions of Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
As the threat in Colombia diminished, the country rescinded a high level alert.
Carlos Ivan Marquez, director of the country’s natural disaster risk management unit, said damage was minor.
“We do not have to lament losing human lives, missing persons, or injured,” he said, adding that 27 homes suffered minor damage.
If anything, Marquez said the rains helped the La Guajira region, which had been suffering from a prolonged drought.
The Atlantic hurricane season normally runs from June 1 to November 30, but this year’s first hurricane, Alex, formed in January. CBB/rga
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