Dangerous Hurricane Matthew threatens Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba
Rain was falling in Jamaica as Hurricane Matthew moved over the Caribbean with experts warning that Haiti could see the worst of the punishing winds.
The powerful Category 4 hurricane had winds of 145mph on Sunday evening. Its centre was expected to pass to the east of Jamaica and be very close to the south-western tip of Haiti late on Monday before reaching Cuba on Tuesday, the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti. Forecasters said the southern Haitian countryside around Jeremie and Les Cayes could suffer most from the torrential rains and strong winds.
"Wherever that centre passes close to would see the worst winds and that's what's projected to happen for the western tip of Haiti," said John Cangilosi, a hurricane specialist at the US centre.
"There is a big concern for rains there and also a big concern for storm surge."
Matthew is one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent history and briefly reached the top classification, Category 5, becoming the strongest hurricane in the region since Felix in 2007.
The hurricane centre said the storm appeared to be on track to pass east of Florida through the Bahamas, but it was too soon to predict with certainty whether it would reach the US coast.
Officials with Haiti's civil protection agency said there were roughly 1,300 emergency shelters across the country, enough to hold up to 340,000 people.
The authorities broadcast warnings over the radio telling people to swiftly heed evacuation warnings, trying to counter a common tendency for people to prefer to stay in their homes to protect them during natural disasters.
In an address on Sunday carried on state radio, interim President Jocelerme Privert urged Haitians to listen closely to the warnings of officials and be ready to move.
"To those people living in houses that could collapse, it's necessary that you leave these houses to take refuge in schools and churches," he said.
Teams of civil protection officials walked the streets of Les Cayes and other areas urging residents to secure their homes, prepare emergency kits and warn their neighbours.
They also evacuated people from some outlying islands. Many Haitians appeared unaware of the looming hurricane.