KINGSTON/PORT-AU-PRINCE Oct 1 Haiti has began
evacuating residents by boat from outlying islands in
preparation for Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest storm to cross
the Caribbean for years that threatens to wreak widespread
damage in the region with flash floods and high winds.
Matthew, with winds at about 150 miles per hour (240 kph),
is expected to make landfall as a major storm on Jamaica's
southern coast, home to the capital, Kingston, and its only oil
refinery. Stormy weather could begin on Sunday.
Simultaneously. the storm is forecast to lash southern
Haiti, dumping up to 40 inches (101 cm) of rain there and up to
25 inches (64 cm) in Jamaica, possibly triggering
life-threatening landslides and floods, the U.S. National
Hurricane Center said.
Albert Moulion, Haiti's interior ministry spokesman, said
authorities had started voluntary evacuations of residents of
small, exposed sandy islands in the south as a precaution.
"We have already started evacuations," he said. "The
national center of emergency operations has been activated."
By early Tuesday, Matthew is due in eastern Cuba, with a
path that could take it over the colonial city of Santiago de
Cuba and the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo.
The U.S. ordered the mandatory evacuation of approximately
700 spouses and children from the base on Saturday, saying it
was airlifting them to a station in Pensacola, Florida. Cuban
President Raul Castro visited Santiago de Cuba on Saturday to
oversee storm preparations, Cuban TV footage showed.
The ferocity of the storm, the strongest in the Carribbean
since Hurricane Felix in 2007, has led to concerns of economic
devastation in the poor countries in its path.
"The hurricane will cause an interruption, obviously, in our
economic activities here," Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew
Holness told Reuters in an interview on Saturday, saying that
tourism and agriculture could be most affected.
"We have allocated all the resources we can given our fiscal
restraints and I think that the country is prepared for the
hurricane," Holness said.
Cash-strapped Jamaica has been suffering a long economic
slowdown and is under an International Monetary Fund programme
to tackle high debt.
In Kingston, residents stocked up on canned foods, water and
flashlights in preparation for the storm, while banks and
offices boarded up their windows. Fishermen were told not to go
In MegaMart, a supermarket, Ennis St. Patrice and his wife,
Monique, bought big bottles of water.
"We've had these kind of occurrences in the past and it is
generally bad, because Jamaica does not have proper
infrastructure," said St Patrice, a trade unionist for Jamaica's
meteorological office. "In simple rainfall, we have flooding."
(Additional reporting by Marc Frank and Gabriel Stargardter;
Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Richard Borsuk)