Haiti warning issued ahead of Hurricane Matthew's arrival
A powerful Hurricane Matthew moved slowly across the Caribbean Sea on Sunday on a track that authorities warned could trigger devastation in parts of Haiti.
The storm had winds of 145mph as it moved north-west and the centre was expected to pass across or very close to the south-western tip of Haiti late on Monday before reaching Cuba, according to the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti. Forecasters said the southern Haitian countryside around Les Cayes could see the worst of it.
"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 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 five, becoming the strongest hurricane in the region since Felix in 2007.
The hurricane centre said it 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 coast of the US.
The government of Haiti opened 1,300 emergency shelters across the country, enough to hold up to 340,000 people.
Authorities broadcast warnings over the radio and across social media, trying to counter a common tendency for people to try to stay in their homes to protect them during natural disasters.
"The shelters are open but I don't believe we have anyone inside them just yet," said Joseph Edgard Celestin, a spokesman for the civil protection agency.
Teams of civil protection officials were walking the streets of Les Cayes urging residents to secure their homes, prepare emergency kits and warn their neighbours.
Forecasters said the slow-moving Matthew was expected to dump 15 to 25 inches of rain over southern Haiti, with a few places getting as much as 40 inches.
A hurricane watch was posted for the south-eastern Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands.
A tropical storm warning was also in effect for parts of the Dominican Republic, where authorities began mandatory evacuations of areas at risk for flooding in 24 provinces.
After passing Jamaica and Haiti, Matthew is expected to reach Cuba, potentially striking near the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, where authorities were evacuating non-essential personnel, including about 700 family members of service personnel.