MIAMI, USA (3rd UPDATE) – Hurricane Matthew, the most devastating Caribbean storm in a decade, barreled towards Jamaica and Haiti Saturday, October 1, 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 now has weakened into a still dangerous Category 4 hurricane, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.
That makes it the most powerful 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.
It added that Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao will also feel the effects of the storm, in the form of lashing winds and heavy rains.
Jamaican officials issued dire warnings to residents, urging them to take precautions against the fury of Matthew.
“This is not a joking matter,” said Desmond McKenzie, a government minister, told residents of the island.
“There is still a wide cross section of Jamaicans who don’t believe that this system is coming,” he said, according to press reports.
The hurricane currently is swirling off the northern coast of Colombia and Venezuela, packing winds of 155 miles (250 kilometers) per hour, with higher gusts.
The center of the storm is located 365 miles (590 kilometers) south of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, and 390 miles (625 kilometers )southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, the NHC said.
The NHC’s 1500 GMT forecast said the hurricane could bring tropical storm conditions to Jamaica and parts of Haiti by late Sunday, which could reaach Jamaica by Monday.
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.
Haiti, Jamaica batten down
Residents in Jamaica and southern Haiti scrambled to prepare as the storm headed in their direction. The NHC said that the expected 10-15 inches (25-38 centimeters) of rain could cause “life-threatening flash flooding and mud slides.”
McKenzie, quoted in the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper, encouraged Jamaicans to stock up on essential supplies, calling the hurricane “a national crisis.”
“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 said.
The Jamaican minister added that the 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.
Separately, the US embassy in Jamaica said it will 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.
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.
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 meanwhile, Colombia revoked a high level alert.
The Atlantic hurricane season normally runs from June 1 to November 30, but this year’s first hurricane, Alex, formed in January. – Rappler.com