KINGSTON, Jamaica: Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in a decade, churned towards Jamaica and Haiti Saturday on a path forecasters said could 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.
The hurricane is forecast to dump “10 to 20 inches (25-50 cm) over eastern Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and eastern Cuba, with possible isolated maximum amounts of 25 inches (64 centimeters),” the NHC said.
“This rainfall will likely produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides,” it warned.
At 0001 GMT, Matthew had “barely moved during past few hours, but a slow northwestward motion is expected to begin tonight,” the NHC said.
A turn toward the north-northwest with an increase in forward speed is forecast for Sunday, and then another to the north on Monday.
“On the forecast track, the center of Matthew will approach Jamaica and southwestern Haiti on Monday,” the NHC said.
The hurricane was “meandering over the south-central Caribbean,” packing winds of 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour, with higher gusts, the NHC said.
The center of the storm is located 360 miles south of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, and 385 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.
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 of almost three million people stood ready.
In Haiti, home to almost 11 million people, many living in fragile housing in the poorest country in the Americas, authorities advised said southern island residents that they were “first at risk,” and urged them to prepare.
The Atlantic hurricane season normally runs from June 1 to November 30, but this year’s first hurricane, Alex, formed in January.