MIAMI — Hurricane Matthew became a major hurricane Friday and threatened Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti and the Bahamas as it begins its slow romp across the Caribbean.
By Friday night, the storm took on a Category 5 rating, the strongest in the Atlantic since Felix in 2007, the National Weather Service said.
“Many land areas are at least threatened by the system,” said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center. “Hurricane hunters are going to be flying in and out of Matthew for days to come.”
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says Matthew is packing top sustained winds of 160 mph after gaining new strength Friday. The storm is about 440 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica.
The center says that as of 11 p.m. Friday, the storm is moving west at 7 mph.
Forecasters say they expect Matthew to remain a powerful hurricane through Sunday, when it is on track to approach Jamaica. Tropical storm conditions are possible there late Sunday and hurricane conditions possible Monday.
Knabb noted that South Florida could be threatened next week, but inhabitants had “the luxury of time,” and he encouraged people to use it to prepare and buy supplies.
CNN Weather said it is still unclear whether Matthew will hit Florida, where weather models currently have it possibly scraping. But by late Sunday or Monday the dangerous storm should be approaching Jamaica, Haiti and eastern Cuba.
IBC Airways has canceled all flights to and from the American naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Monday because of the approaching storm, the naval station announced via Twitter.
American and Delta airlines issued travel warnings for their customers, saying change fees can be waived for flights to some destinations.
The storm was a Category 1 storm on Thursday. Early Friday it was re-categorized as a Category 3 storm, before strengthening into Category 4, then 5.
Jamaica Meteorological Service’ Director Evan Thomas said he expected the storm to hit the island and said fishermen have been advised to evacuate from the cays and return to the mainland, the Jamaica Observer reported.
U.S. hurricane forecasters predicted rainfall totals between 10 and 15 inches in Jamaica, with some areas getting as much as 25 inches. Southern and southwestern Haiti also are due for drenching rains, forecasters said.