Hurricane Matthew: Jamaica and Haiti brace for ‘life-threatening’ storm

A hurricane packing 140-mph winds is threatening to bring destruction to Haiti and other Caribbean islands as it moves through the Caribbean Sea.

Hurricane Matthew — a storm that, as of 11 a.m. Monday, was 205 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and 275 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti — could dump more than a foot of rain on both islands.

The latest advisory says southern Haiti and southwestern Dominican Republic can expect 15 to 25 inches with possible isolated downpours of up to 40 inches. Eastern Cuba, northwestern Haiti and the southeastern Bahamas could see up to a foot of rain, while Jamaica could see 5 to 10 inches.

“On the forecast track, the center of Matthew will approach southwestern Haiti tonight, move near eastern Cuba late Tuesday, and move near or over portions of the southeastern and central Bahamas Tuesday night and Wednesday,” the latest National Hurricane Center advisory says.

Though a hurricane warning remains in effect in Jamaica, the latest advisory says tropical storm conditions will reach the island sometime Monday.

Several islands in the Caribbean region are under hurricane watches or warnings. The storm is expected to remain “powerful” through early Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

“This rainfall will likely produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the hurricane center said. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”

Epic rainfall, brutal strength in Haiti

Matthew will likely make landfall sometime Monday night off the western tip of the Tiburon Peninsula, which includes most of Haiti’s southern coast, the National Hurricane Center said. “Destructive waves” could push the storm surge to between 10 and 15 feet in parts of Cuba, Haiti and the Bahamas, the center said.

The hurricane could be especially devastating for Haiti as much of the country’s infrastructure remains weak after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. Haiti continues to recover from a post-quake cholera outbreak that killed another 10,000.

The US State Department issued a travel warning Sunday urging Americans in Haiti to leave as quickly as possible.

“Airports will close once conditions deteriorate,” the State Department said.

Bracing for a monstrous storm in Jamaica

Over the weekend, Jamaican officials opened storm shelters ahead of the nation’s first major hurricane since Gilbert in 1988.

“[This hurricane] is something Jamaica has not seen in decades,” Desmond McKenzie, Jamaica’s minister of local government and community development, told CNN affiliate WPLG.

Kingston resident Marcia Forbes, who survived Gilbert, told CNN she has “seriously” prepared for a rough couple of days. She waited in line to fill her car with gasoline. To protect her multimedia business, she placed sandbags against office shutters and covered computers with plastic.

Around 3 a.m. Monday, the Norman Manley International Airport near Kingston announced on Facebook it was shutting down until Tuesday morning.

Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness urged government workers to facilitate a speedy recovery to ensure “our economy does not suffer unnecessarily,” The Gleaner reported him saying.

“We will see significant damage to property and dislocation and human suffering that will come from such an event if we do not prepare,” Holness said, according to the newspaper.

Hunkering down

Some Jamaicans believe they can ride out the storm, and say they’re putting their trust in a higher power, despite pleas from authorities to leave the threatened coast.

Several women from Port Royal, a fishing village outside Kingston, said their families would hunker down in the nearby St. Peter’s Church, placing their faith in God.

One woman who sought refuge there told CNN the government always warns people to leave before storms. Though at least 14 people died during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, she lost only the roof on her house, she said.

She conceded fear with Matthew, as she did during Ivan, but said, “You know, I trust in God.”

Crash course to Cuba

After hitting Haiti, Matthew is expected to move north toward Cuba and make landfall Tuesday night, maintaining winds of more than 100 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm could be brutal for Cuba, where many houses appear too weak to withstand a hurricane.

Military trucks raced around Santiago, the island’s second largest city, to finish preparations. Four years ago, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the city, downing trees, power lines and killing 11 people in the area. To prepare in advance, residents spent Sunday securing their roofs and collecting cash wired from relatives in Florida.

Some people left coastal areas for government shelters, while officials warned inhabitants of the Sierra Maestra mountains of possible mudslides.

“We have endured a lot of hurricanes here,” a man named Orlando, a property manager who feared for his investments, told CNN. “We will endure this one.”

What about the US?

The United States, taking no chances, began airlifting 700 family members of military personnel stationed at Guantanamo Bay to Florida. It’s unclear when the evacuees will return, officials said.

Base officials said remaining personnel would seek shelter in designated locations including their homes.

Sixty-one detainees, who remain at the facility where the United States holds prisoners it accuses of being enemy combatants, will not be evacuated, officials added.

Early Monday morning, forecasters cautioned it was too early to predict whether Matthew would directly strike the United States.

“This dangerous storm will be closely monitored,” the National Hurricane Center said.

CNN’s Faith Karimi, Joe Sterling, Joe Sutton, Patrick Oppmann, Michael Holmes, Lindy Royce and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

By Max Blau, Holly Yan and Steve Visser