KINGSTON, Jamaica -- People from Cuba to the Carolinas are getting ready for the.
The powerful Category 4 storm is already blamed for at least four deaths.
Heavy rains from the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew drenched Haiti and Jamaica on Monday, flooding streets and sending many people to emergency shelters as the sprawling Category 4 storm steamed toward the two Caribbean countries.
A slightly strengthened Matthew had sustained winds of 145 mph late Monday, up from 140 mph earlier in the day. Its center was expected to pass near or over the southwestern tip of impoverished Haiti after dawn on Tuesday, then head for another landfall in eastern Cuba, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
“We are looking at a dangerous hurricane that is heading into the vicinity of western Haiti and eastern Cuba,” said Richard Pasch, a senior hurricane specialist with the center. “People who are impacted by things like flooding and mudslides hopefully would get out and relocate because that’s where we have seen loss of life in the past.”
In Jamaica, many took that advice before the island’s government discontinued a hurricane warning and replaced it with a tropical storm warning as Matthew tracked closer to Haiti. More than 700 people packed shelters in the eastern parish of St. Thomas and the Salvation Army said there were about 200 people at its shelters in Kingston as it put out a call for mattresses and cots.
Jamaica has felt Hurricane Matthew’s outer bands all weekend, striking fear of its fury into residents. Kingston, the nation’s capital with almost 600,000 people, is a virtual ghost town, CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reported.
Annette Gerald headed for a shelter.
“My roof is not solid and the hurricane is coming,” she said. “And the hurricane is coming.”
Many people chose to stick it out at home. Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said all but four residents of the Port Royal area near the Kingston airport refused to board buses and evacuate.
In Haiti, authorities experienced a similar problem in some flood-prone areas. In the Port-au-Prince suburb of Tabarre, officials urged shantytown residents living next to a muddy river to take shelter at a local school where cots were set up. But many refused, fearing their few possessions might be stolen.
“If we lose our things we are not going to get them back!” Toussaint Laine said as police and officials from the mayor’s office urged the jobless man and his family to evacuate.
Haiti’s civil protection agency reported the death of a fisherman in rough water churned up by the storm. Agency chief Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste had said early Monday that the body of another fisherman was recovered off the southern town of Aquin but she later said that was wrong and he was still missing.
The reported death in Haiti brought the total for the storm to at least three. One man died Friday in Colombia and a 16-year-old was killed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 28 when the system passed through the eastern Caribbean.
Authorities went door to door in Haiti’s south coast cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie to make sure people were aware of the storm. At least 1,200 people were moved to shelters in churches and schools.
“We are continuing to mobilize teams in the south to move people away from dangerous areas,” Jean-Baptiste said.
There is no shortage of people with flimsy houses set up in risky places in Haiti. In an unregulated sprawl of shacks built on hillsides near the northern edge of Haiti’s capital, some poor families did the best they could to reinforce their tin-and-tarp houses. But most were just praying they would get through the storm in the shanty metropolis of Canaan without getting hurt.
“I know my house could easily blow away. All I can do is pray and then pray some more,” said Ronlande Francois. She lives with her unemployed husband and three children.
In Port-au-Prince, schools were closed and people lined up at gas stations and cleared out shelves at supermarkets as a light rain fell in the capital.
Some worried the crowded city might not fare well. “We are not prepared,” unemployed mason Fritz Achelus said as he watched water pool on a downtown street.
Forecasters said the storm could dump as much as 40 inches (100 centimeters) of rain on some isolated areas of Haiti, raising fears of deadly mudslides and floods in the heavily deforested country where many families live in flimsy houses with corrugated metal roofs.
Matthew is one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent history and briefly reached the top classification, Category 5, becoming the strongest hurricane in the region since Felix in 2007.
The hurricane center said the storm appeared to be on track to pass east of Florida through the Bahamas, but it was too soon to predict with certainty whether it would threaten any spot on the U.S. East Coast.
“Although our track is to the east of Florida, interests there should remain vigilant and we can’t rule out the possibility of impacts,” Pasch said.
A hurricane warning was posted for the central Bahamas, where the storm was expected to move along the eastern length of the island chain starting early Wednesday.
As of 11 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 100 miles south of Tiburon, Haiti, and 190 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince. It was moving north at 7 mph.
he U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to the central Caribbean as Hurricane Matthew hits.
“The DART has experts in Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas. The U.S. Government is also communicating with officials in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Colombia, the Cayman Islands and Belize to coordinate relief efforts, if requested,” USAID said in a statement. “USAID is providing $400,000 for initial relief assistance in Haiti and Jamaica. USAID will work with international partners to distribute critical relief supplies, manage emergency shelters and provide logistics support to humanitarian organizations.”
Cuba’s government declared a hurricane alert for six eastern provinces and removed traffic lights from poles in the city of Santiago to keep them from falling due to heavy wind.
Matthew’s center was expected to make landfall in Cuba about 50 miles least of the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, where authorities evacuated about 700 spouses and children of service members on military transport planes to Florida.
The U.S. installation has a population of about 5,500, including 61 men held at the detention center for terrorism suspects. Navy Capt. David Culpepper, the base commander, said emergency shelters had been set up and authorities were bracing for storm surge and heavy rain that could threaten some low-lying areas, including around the power plant and water desalination facility.
“We have no choice but to prepare ourselves to take a frontal assault if you will,” Culpepper said.