Hurricane Matthew remained a major threat to the Caribbean on Sunday night as it continued moving northward.
Traveling north at 5 mph, the Category 4 storm had sustained winds of 145 mph as it ominously crept up on the Caribbean with a long-range threat to possibly sideswipe Florida.
“It’s too soon to rule out any possible hurricane impacts in Florida, and it’s also too soon to know whether or how Matthew will affect the rest of the U.S.,” National Hurricane Center spokesman and meteorologist Dennis Feltgen told the Miami Herald on Sunday evening.
At 11 p.m. Sunday, the hurricane remained a strong Category 4 storm. Its center sat about 325 miles southwest of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince and 255 miles south/southeast from Kingston, Jamaica.
The National Hurricane Center was projecting the hurricane would continue traveling north through Monday. The center expects that Matthew will remain a powerful hurricane into Tuesday.
“We’ll probably have a better handle on this thing once it gets out of the Caribbean and into the Atlantic,” Feltgen said, predicting that the possible impacts on Florida would become clearer late Monday or early Tuesday.
Jamaica, Haiti and the Cuban provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Granma and Las Tunas all remain under a hurricane warning. The government of the Bahamas issued a hurricane warning for the southeastern Bahamas and a hurricane watch for the central Bahamas late Sunday.
The National Hurricane Center predicts the center of the hurricane will approach Jamaica and southwestern Haiti on Monday. Between 15 and 25 inches of rain could fall in southern Haiti and the southwestern region of the Dominican Republic during the storm.
Haitian Interim President Jocelerme Privert urged Haitians on Sunday to begin making preparations for the hurricane. He called for residents living along the coast to evacuate and announced that schools will close Monday and Tuesday so they can be used as shelters. The country also suspended inter-departmental travel and public outdoor markets.
Haiti is at risk of mudslides and serious flooding. There are also concerns about a spike in cholera, the waterborne disease that has killed over 9,000 in six years.
Workers from the Office of Civil Protection began mobilizing Saturday across the mountainous country, warning citizens of the pending storm. They also were trying to buy hurricane supplies.
“We have no choice but to mobilize throughout the country,” said Haiti’s Interior Minister Francois Anick Joseph. “I also believe that it’s an occasion for us to show our resilience, to show the capacity that we have in the face of adversity.”
In Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, U.S. military began evacuating military family and staff to Pensacola. Navy Captain David Culpepper, the base commander, told residents Saturday via Radio Gitmo they needed to prepare for the possibility of the base taking a direct hit from a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.
Cuban leader Raúl Castro and a group of cabinet ministers arrived in Santiago de Cuba on Saturday to personally oversee hurricane preparations in the six eastern provinces that could be affected. Radio Rebelde reported Sunday evening that nearly 252,000 residents of vulnerable areas of Santiago province were being evacuated.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy walloped Santiago, causing heavy losses, and the recovery period was slow and arduous. Sandy left 11 dead in its wake in Cuba and damaged 137,000 homes in Santiago alone.
“We’re preparing with a lot of discipline, a lot of organization, taking into account the experiences we gained from Sandy,” Lázaro Expósito Canto, first secretary of the Communist Party in Santiago, said on Cuban national television.
“I believe we are very well prepared — better prepared then we were for Sandy,” he said.
Forecasters are saying as much as 10 to 20 inches of rain could fall in Cuba. But this time, Santiago residents aren’t viewing the possible driving rain as entirely negative. In recent months, there has been a severe drought in eastern Cuba.
Cuba canceled all flights to Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Camagüey, Guantánamo, Moa, Baracoa, Manzanillo, Bayamo and Las Tunas until further notice. International flights from the island to Port au Prince, Santo Domingo, Fort de France in Martinique, Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe and Caracas were also canceled. Cuba’s Empresa Ómnibus Nacionales said that all bus travel from Havana and the provinces to the eastern part of the island from Las Tunas to Guantánamo would be suspended as of 5 a.m. Monday.
Stores were open until 10 p.m. this weekend to allow residents of the eastern provinces to stock up on hurricane supplies. Shelters were being prepared and workers were trimming trees and clearing storm sewers Sunday afternoon. The whine of chain saws could be heard in Santiago neighborhoods as neighbors and state workers cut trees and branches expected to threaten roofs in high winds.
Jamaican capital Kingston flooded Sunday as the hurricane approached and several streets were closed. The eastern parishes of Portland and St. Thomas were experiencing heavy showers and winds late Sunday, and police reported that some areas of the country were already seeing mudslides. Schools in Jamaica are closed until further notice.
In an address, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told citizens Jamaica must be prepared for Matthew's arrival. He pleaded with Jamaicans to lend a helping hand in their communities by clearing drains and other areas that pose a threat. The government also encouraged those living in low-lying areas, especially in the eastern part of the island, "to be proactive and relocate."
"This is potentially a very destructive hurricane," Holness said.
Late Sunday night, thirty people remained on cays off Jamaica’s coast despite efforts by the army to evacuate them.
Miami Herald writers Jacqueline Charles, Mimi Whitefield, Carol Rosenberg, Jim Wyss and Jovan Johnson contributed to this report.