HAVANA – Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful storm to strike the Caribbean in nine years, made landfall on Tuesday in southeastern Cuba packing sustained winds of up to 240 kph (149 mph), the island’s Insmet weather service said.
Authorities ordered nearly 900,000 residents of the provinces of Camagüey, Granma, Las Tunas, Santiago, Holguin and Guantanamo to evacuate ahead of the arrival of the Category 4 hurricane.
Matthew, whose eye is currently 28 km (17 mi.) in diameter, will remain over Cuba for about three hours as it proceeds northward at a speed of 15 kph (9 mph), during which time it will dump between 200 and 300 mm (8-12 inches) of rain and possibly more in the more mountainous areas.
The forecast is that Matthew will move out over the ocean again about 9 p.m. near Bahia de Mata, to the east of the town of Baracoa.
In the towns where Matthew’s power will be most strongly felt, authorities have cut electricity as a precautionary measure before the hurricane hits.
The highway linking Guantanamo and Baracoa, the two main cities in the province, has become flooded and impassable, leaving the municipality of Imias completely isolated.
As a preventive measure prior to the storm’s passage, authorities evacuated some 4,000 tourists, most of them in Holguin province, transporting them to hotels in more secure locations in Villa Clara province.
The U.S. Navy last weekend relocated 700 people from the Guantanamo naval base, most of them the wives and children of soldiers assigned there.
In addition to the massive evacuations in the most affected provinces, thousands of head of livestock have been sheltered and higher structures that could be toppled by the heavy winds have been dismantled, installations vital for the economy have been protected, trees have been cut down, sewage systems have been flushed out and other measures taken.