Matthew weakened slightly from a Category 5 to a powerful Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic early Saturday as it drenched coastal Colombia and roared across the Caribbean on a course that still puts Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba in the path of potentially devastating winds and rain. At least 2 people were killed.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Matthew's maximum sustained winds had slipped from a peak of 160 mph (260 kph) to a still-devastating 140mph (220 kph). As of 8 p.m. ET, the NHC was reporting that the storm has barely moved during the past few hours. A "slow northwestward motion" is still expected to begin Saturday night. The center of Matthew will approach Jamaica and southwestern Haiti on Monday.
The forecast track would carry it across Cuba and into the Bahamas, with an outside chance of a brush with Florida, though that would be several days away.
Parts of coastal Miami-Dade and Broward entered the forecast cone Friday, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the Florida Division of Emergency Management was actively monitoring the hurricane.
"While the National Hurricane Center’s current forecast predicts Matthew traveling east of Florida, we all know that the track of these storms can quickly change which is why it is imperative that all Floridians and visitors continue to monitor Hurricane Matthew and make sure to have a plan in place in the event of severe weather," Scott said in a statement.
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As Matthew skimmed past the northern tip of South America there were reports of heavy flooding and at least one death — the second attributed to the storm.
Authorities said at least 18 houses were damaged along the La Guajira peninsula of Colombia, which has been suffering from a multi-year drought. They said a 67-year-old man was swept away to his death by a flash flood in an area where it hadn't rained for four years.
In Jamaica, high surf began pounding the coast and flooding temporarily closed the road linking the capital to its airport. Carl Ferguson, head of the marine police, said people were starting to heed calls to relocate from small islands and areas near rural waterways.
At its peak, Matthew was more powerful than Hurricane Gilbert, which made landfall on the island in September 1988 and was the most destructive storm in the country's modern history.
"Hurricane Matthew could rival or possibly exceed Gilbert if the core of the strongest winds does actually move over Jamaica," said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the hurricane center in Miami. "There is no certainty of that at this point."
Matthew was expected to bring heavy rainfall especially to the eastern tip and higher elevations, which could trigger flooding and landslides, said Evan Thompson, director of Jamaica's National Meteorological Service.
Forecasters said rainfall totals could reach 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) with isolated maximum amounts of 25 inches (63 centimeters) in Jamaica and southwestern Haiti.
A hurricane watch was in effect for Jamaica, as the country activated its National Emergency Operations Center and Prime Minister Andrew Holness called an urgent meeting of Parliament to discuss preparations for the storm.
A tropical storm watch was issued for Haiti's southwest coast form the southern border it shares with the Dominican Republic to the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Rain and winds from the strengthened Hurricane Matthew whipped at Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao early Friday.
Authorities on the Dutch Caribbean islands had urged residents to reinforce their homes and stock up on emergency supplies. Some streets flooded on Aruba and Curacao in the early hours of the storm's pass-by, though there were no reports of evacuations.
Matthew's approach prompted long lines at gas stations and supermarkets on the so-called "ABC islands." Authorities in Aruba ordered government offices closed Friday and Curacao's parliamentary elections were postponed until next week.
The U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is also potentially in the path of the storm. A mandatory evacuation of non-essential personnel, including family members of military personnel was underway and everyone remaining behind was being told to take shelter, said Julie Ann Ripley, a spokeswoman. There are about 5,500 people living on the base, including 61 men held at the detention center.
Matthew caused at least one death when it entered the Caribbean on Wednesday, with officials in St. Vincent reporting a 16-year-old boy was crushed by a boulder as he tried to clear a blocked drain.