MIAMI, Oct. 3 (UPI) — A very dangerous Hurricane Matthew packing 140 mph winds and rainfall of up to 40 inches began bearing down on Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Monday, with Bermuda, Florida and North Carolina as future targets.
Two fishermen were reported killed in Haiti early Monday, where residents are least prepared for a disastrous storm like Matthew.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami reports Matthew’s center will approach southwestern Haiti Monday night, extreme eastern Cuba late Tuesday and the Bahamas on Wednesday and Thursday.
Torrential rains began in southern Haiti and the Dominican Republic Sunday night. Those areas will bear the brunt of Matthew’s strength. Thousands of Haitians live in ramshackle homes that will not stand up to the storm’s winds, and about 55,000 people still live in tents after previous storms and earthquakes.
By Monday afternoon, 14 inches of rain had already been reported in Cabo Rojo, Dominican Republic.
Fluctuations in strength are expected in the coming days but the storm is expected to remain a “major” hurricane through at least Thursday, when the storm is expected to be heading northwest about 200 miles east of Miami.
The Atlantic coast from South Florida to North Carolina remains in Matthew’s 5-day “cone of uncertainty,” though current computer model consensus keeps it offshore. Matthew is forecast to be off the coast of South Carolina with 105 mph winds on Saturday. Current long-range computer models have it making landfall as a Category 2 storm in southeastern North Carolina, where the governor declared a state of emergency Monday afternoon. Dangerous surf and stormy conditions are likely in those areas regardless of where Matthew goes.
Hurricane warnings are in effect for Jamaica; Haiti; Cuba’s Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, Granma and Las Tunas provinces; and the southeastern and central Bahamas. A hurricane watch is in effect for Camaguey in Cuba, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the northwestern Bahamas islands. Tropical storm warnings and watches are in effect for much of the Dominican Republic.
The NHC warns that people living under hurricane or tropical storm advisories should make preparations as soon as possible. Tropical storm conditions have already begun in Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Officials in South Florida began early preparations for hurricane conditions, with emergency operations in Palm Beach County increased to “enhanced monitoring.” Matthew is expected to be near Florida Thursday and Friday. The forecast track issued at 5 p.m. Eastern on Monday pushed Matthew’s cone further into Florida.
“This is a major storm and all it takes is a little wobble to the west and we could have the potential of a potent hurricane on our doorstep,” said emergency center director Bill Johnson told the Palm Beach Post.
Florida’s Atlantic coast currently has up to a 40 percent chance of seeing tropical storm-force winds under Matthew’s current track. No warnings or watches are in effect there.
Matthew remains a Category 4 storm moving north at a very slow speed of 7 mph. Although it is expected to pick up speed, its very slow movement means areas under current hurricane warnings will face extended periods of destructive winds and flooding rains.
“Life-threatening flash floods and mudslides are likely from this rainfall in southern and northwestern Haiti, the southwestern Dominican Republic, and eastern Cuba,” the NHC added.
An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter recorded hurricane-force winds extending 40 miles out from Matthew’s eye, with tropical storm-force winds extending out up to 185 miles. The storm passed over a NOAA ocean buoy early Monday morning, recording wave heights of 34 feet at 11:50 p.m. Sunday.
Matthew’s storm surge – the ocean level beyond normal tides, one of the most destructive elements of a hurricane – is forecast to range from up to 11 feet in eastern Cuba and southern Haiti to 4 feet in Jamaica. Storm surge in the central and southeastern Bahamas could reach as high as 15 feet.
Heavy rains are particularly troublesome for Haiti, where deforestation has left the region ripe for severe mudslides.
Matthew is expected to weaken slightly as it passes over the Greater Antilles, but is likely to remain a dangerous “major” hurricane with winds of 120-130 mph after emerging over the Bahamas.