Hurricane Matthew puts Jamaica on high alert


KINGSTON, Jamaica – Powerful Hurricane Matthew is heading towards Jamaica as it barrels across the Caribbean.

“We are all on high alert,” said Evan Thompson, director of Jamaica’s National Meteorological Service, on Friday, adding, “We do consider it serious.”

Thompson warned the first effects of the strong storm, with wind speeds as high as 260 kilometer per hour, may be felt as early as Saturday.

However, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) predicted that the hurricane, the strongest in the Atlantic Ocean since Felix in 2007, would be approaching Jamaica late Sunday night and is expected to reach the eastern parts of the island on Monday.

The NHC downgraded the intensity of Hurricane Matthew to Category 4 from the top Category 5, which it was first designated.

Hurricane Matthew preparations

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Friday called for an emergency meeting of parliament to discuss preparations for the storm.

Robert Morgan, director of communications at the prime minister’s office, said, “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.”

Disaster coordinators, police and troops on the Caribbean island state are on standby and shelters are being set up across the island, Morgan said.

“We will prepare with drinking water for the patients, with medication, with generators for electricity (and) vehicles to go look for people at their homes,” said Yves Domercant, head of the public hospital in southern Les Cayes commune.

Meanwhile, Jamaicans stocked up on water and food on Friday as they prepared for the storm.

Jamaica was hard hit by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. The last major hurricane in the region was Sandy in 2012.

Cuba and Haiti are also on the path of the powerful hurricane.

Cubans in the eastern coastal city of Santiago de Cuba said they were closely monitoring the news for updates on the hurricane, although the sky was still blue.

In Haiti, authorities warned residents of the country’s southern islands that they were “first at risk,” and urged them to prepare.