KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - Hurricane Matthew surged in power on Friday to become the Caribbean’s first major hurricane in four years as it moved towards Jamaica and Cuba with winds of up to 160 miles per hour (260 kph) powerful enough to wreck houses, forecasters said.
|Matthew was about 440 miles (710 km)|
southeast of Kingston, Jamaica,
The strongest hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean since Felix in 2007 was forecast to make landfall as a major storm on Monday on Jamaica’s palm-fringed southern coast, home to the capital and Jamaica’s only oil refinery. It could affect the island’s main tourist areas such as Montego Bay in the north.
“The government is on high alert,” said Robert Morgan, Director of Communications at the prime minister’s office. “We hope that the hurricane does not hit us, but if it does hit us, we are trying our very best to ensure that we are in the best possible place.”
Local disaster coordinators, police and military have been put on standby and shelters are being opened throughout the island, Morgan said.
|Stock up time for dangerous hurricane Matthew|
Jamaica was hard hit by hurricane Gilbert in 1988, and the last major hurricane in the region was Sandy, in 2012. Matthew could be the most powerful storm to cross the island since records began, meteorologist Eric Holthaus said on Twitter.
Tenaj Lewis, 41, a doctor who was stocking up at the MegaMart grocery store in Kingston on Friday afternoon said Jamaica was much better prepared for hurricanes than it was when Gilbert hit. “The country literally shut down for months,” she said. Since then, hurricanes have brought a few days of power outages to the island nation, but have not been nearly as destructive.
Some residents were enjoying the calm before the storm. Peter Silvera, who owns the Longboarder Bar & Grill in the Roselle, a small hamlet on the southeastern coast of the island, said he was surfing all morning.
“This is when we get the best waves,” he said, but added he would be bringing in his outdoor tables and “battening down the hatches” to ride out the storm.
“I think we’re probably going to get a square hit,” he said. As a precaution, Southwest Airlines warned that flights to Montego Bay could be disrupted and said customers could reschedule.
Matthew is also forecast to skim past the south coast of Haiti on Monday bringing tropical storm conditions. more