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Haiti and Jamaica brace for Hurricane Matthew

Image: MGN Online

Image: MGN Online

(CNN) — A ferocious hurricane packing 130-mph winds is threatening to wreak havoc on Haiti and Jamaica as it trudges through the Caribbean Sea.

Hurricane Matthew, a slow-moving storm now within roughly 300 miles of Jamaica and Haiti, is expected to dump dozens of inches of torrential rainfall on both islands starting Monday. After that, Matthew is expected to plod north toward Cuba, where it’s expected to make landfall near Guantanamo Bay Tuesday night.

“This rainfall will produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the National Weather Service said late Sunday night. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”

Epic rainfall, brutal strength in Haiti

The National Weather Service reported Monday Matthew could dump up to 25 inches of rain on southern Haiti — including 40 inches in isolated areas.

Matthew will likely make landfall sometime after Monday night just off the western tip of the Tiburon Peninsula, the National Weather Service said. The storm surge is expected to reach 10 feet along the coastline. Rainfall of up to nearly two feet could lead to major flooding and trigger perilous landslides.

In addition, a direct hit on Haiti could also be disastrous as much of the country’s infrastructure remains weak after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. Haiti continues to recover from a cholera outbreak after the quake that killed another 10,000.

The US State Department issued a travel warning Sunday urging Americans in Haiti to leave as quickly as possible.

“Airports will close once conditions deteriorate,” the State Department said.

Bracing for a monstrous storm in Jamaica

Over the weekend, Jamaican officials opened storm shelters ahead of the nation’s first major hurricane since Gilbert in 1988.

“[This hurricane] is something Jamaica has not seen in decades,” Desmond McKenzie, Jamaica’s minister of local government and community development, told CNN affiliate WPLG.

Kingston resident Marcia Forbes, who survived Gilbert, told CNN she has “seriously” prepared for a rough couple of days. She waited in line to fill her car with gasoline, and to protect her multimedia business, she placed sandbags against office shutters and covered computers with plastic.

The Norman Manley International Airport near Kingston planned to shut down early Monday morning for at least 24 hours, officials said.

Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness urged government workers to help facilitate a speedy recovery to ensure “our economy does not suffer unnecessarily,” The Gleaner, a Jamaican newspaper, reported him saying.

“We will see significant damage to property and dislocation and human suffering that will come from such an event if we do not prepare,” Holness said.

Some Jamaicans, however, believe they can ride out the storm, putting their trust in a higher power, despite pleas from authorities to leave the threatened coast.

Several women from Port Royal, a fishing village outside Kingston, said their families would hunker down in the nearby St. Peter’s church, placing their faith in God.

One woman who sought refuge there told CNN the government always warned people to leave before storms. Though at least 14 people died during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, she had only lost the roof on her house.

She conceded fear with Matthew, as she did during Ivan, but ultimately said: “You know, I trust in God.”

Crash course to Cuba

After Haiti and Jamaica, Matthew is expected to move north toward Cuba and make landfall by Tuesday night, maintaining winds of more than 100 miles per hour, the National Weather Service said.

The storm could be brutal for Cuba, where many houses appear too weak to withstand a hurricane, CNN’s Patrick Oppmann said Sunday.

“I was struck by the number of people living in housing that looks like it’s hundreds of years old,” Oppmann said from Santiago de Cuba. “[It] looks like it could blow away.”

Military trucks raced around the island’s second largest city to finish preparations. Four years ago, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the city, downing trees, power lines and killing 11 people in the area. To prepare in advance, residents spent Sunday securing their roofs and collecting cash wired from relatives in Florida.

Some people left coastal areas for government shelters, while officials warned inhabitants of the Sierra Maestra mountains of possible mudslides.

“We have endured a lot of hurricanes here,” a man named Orlando, a property manager who feared for his investments, told CNN. “We will endure this one.”

What about the US?

The United States, taking no chances, started airlifting 700 family members of military personnel stationed at its naval base at Guantanamo Bay to Florida. It’s unclear when the evacuees will be brought back, officials said.

Base officials said remaining personnel would seek shelter in designated locations including their homes.

The 61 prisoners still detained at the facility that holds terror suspects would not be evacuated, officials added.

Early Monday morning, forecasters cautioned that it was too early to predict whether Matthew would directly strike the US.

“This dangerous storm will be closely monitored,” the National Weather Service said.