Hurricane Matthew: US, Jamaica moving families as storm looms

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The US will move 700 employees and their families from its Guantanamo Bay naval base Sunday as Hurricane Matthew inched toward Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba.

Military planes will airlift people from the base in Cuba to various locations in Florida, including Miami, Pensacola and Jacksonville. Family pets will join the mandatory evacuations, base officials said.

Those getting evacuated are mostly nonessential personnel; there no plans to evacuate the 61 prisoners detained at the facility that holds terror suspects.

“Remaining personnel and their families will be taking shelter in their homes or designated locations,” base officials said in a statement.

It’s unclear when the evacuees will be brought back, officials said.

Dangerous rain, winds

The storm is expected to smack Jamaica and Haiti on Monday, but residents should be feeling its effects by Sunday. Dangerous storm surge, life-threatening rain and strong winds will arrive hours before the storm hits.

“Tropical storm conditions are expected to first reach these areas by late Sunday, making outside preparations difficult or dangerous,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Matthew may slam Cuba, the Bahamas and South Florida later this week, forecasters said.

‘Luxury of time’

South Florida residents have “the luxury of time,” said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. But he urged people to use it to prepare and buy supplies.

Weather models currently have Matthew possibly scraping the southern part of the state, but the hurricane center said Saturday that models are uncertain beyond the next three days.

“It is too soon to rule out possible hurricane impacts from Matthew in Florida,” the agency said on Twitter.

Jamaica, Haiti on edge

As the hurricane slowed to a crawl in the Caribbean on Saturday night, Jamaica and Haiti prepared for its impact.

Matthew packed maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (241 kph) early Sunday, the National Hurricane Center reported.

In Jamaica, storm shelters opened and agencies geared up to support evacuations as the nation awaited its first major hurricane since Gilbert in 1988.

People who live on the streets were taken to shelters and fishermen urged to move to the mainland, according to The Gleaner newspaper

Ivan Shaw, a videographer based in Kingston, said stores opened Saturday for last-minute shoppers. Some residents who live near the beach have evacuated, he said.

Marcia Forbes, a business owner in Kingston, told CNN she was preparing for a rough couple of days.

She waited in line to fill her car with gasoline, brought in her potted plants and filled her bathtub with water in case service is interrupted during the storm. She also placed sandbags against the shutters of her multimedia company and covered her office computers with plastic.

“Having lived through Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, I know what a Category 3 hurricane can do, (much) less a Category 4 or 5,” she told CNN. “Everyone in my community is taking this hurricane seriously and getting their homes shuttered up.”

Mudslides, flash floods

In Haiti, a hurricane warning was issued Saturday from the southern border with the Dominican Republic to Le Mole St. Nicolas.

Cuba issued a hurricane watch for eastern Cuba from the province of Camaguey southeastward to the province of Guantanamo.

The National Hurricane Center predicts life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides. Southern Haiti may receive 15-25 inches of rain and isolated parts of Haiti may receive as much as 40 inches, the center said.

The Dominican Republic has issued a Tropical Storm warning for the south coast of the Dominican Republic from Barahona westward to the border with Haiti.

Powerful hurricane

Matthew briefly strengthened Friday night into a Category 5 storm, becoming the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean since Felix in 2007, the National Weather Service said.

“Some fluctuations in intensity are possible this weekend, but Matthew is expected to remain a powerful hurricane through Monday,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Canceled flights

IBC Airways has canceled all flights Monday to and from Guantanamo Bay because of the approaching storm.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines and Fly Jamaica Airways issued travel warnings for their customers, saying change fees can be waived for flights to some destinations.