Evacuations in Haiti and Guantanamo Bay as Hurricane Matthew moves over Caribbean

Category 4 hurricane is most powerful cyclone to form over Atlantic since 2007

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People crowd at the door of a shop to buy food prior to the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in Santiago, Cuba | Photo: PA Images

Heavy rainfall has hit Jamaica as Hurricane Matthew moves over the Caribbean, with experts warning that Haiti could see the worst of the punishing winds.

With winds of around 150 miles per hour, the Category 4 hurricane is the most powerful cyclone to form over the Atlantic since 2007, and is threatening many parts of the Caribbean.

Its centre is now expected to miss Jamaica but to barrel across southwest Haiti before smashing into eastern Cuba, where Guantanamo is situated.

Jamaica is forecast to suffer up to 25 inches (63cm) of rain, while Haiti could receive up to 40 inches (101cm).

The US National Hurricane Center said the rain is likely to trigger life-threatening landslides and floods.

The latest forecast has Matthew hitting southern Haiti at 3pm Irish times on Monday and reaching Cuba about 12 hours later.

Haiti has started evacuating residents of small, exposed sandy islands in the south who want to leave.

Albert Moulion, Haiti's interior ministry spokesman, said: "We have already started evacuations," he said. "The national center of emergency operations has been activated."

People crosses a street under the rain in downtown Kingston, Jamaica | Photo: PA Images

The US is preparing to evacuate about 700 spouses and children from its base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba over the threat from the hurricane.

The base, notorious as the site of a detention facility for captives from the Afghanistan war, is in the current predicted path of the storm.

A spokesman said in a statement: "The remaining military and civilian personnel will shelter in place and be able to support recovery efforts once safe to do so following the storm's passage."

The Dominican Republic also issued a tropical storm warning.

The NHC said: "Maximum sustained winds remain near 150 mph... with higher gusts. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 25 miles (35 km) from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 205 miles (335 km).

"Matthew is forecast to remain a powerful hurricane until it interacts with the high terrain of Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) and eastern Cuba in about 48 hours or so.

"Once Matthew reaches the Bahamas, the upper-level environment and warm waters will favor some restrengthening."

It is feared the storm could move on to affect the Bahamas and the east coast of the United States, although the path is difficult to predict.