Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic storm since 2007, continued on a path to land a heavy punch to Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, forecasters said early today.
"This is shaping up to be a devastating blow, especially to places like Haiti and Cuba," Weather Channel meteorologist Domenica Davis said.
At 8 a.m. ET today, Matthew was a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. It was 220 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, which was already being swamped with torrents of rain, and it was moving north about 6 mph.
The hurricane center called Matthew "extremely dangerous," and conditions look favorable for it to maintain its strength, said Michael Lowry, a hurricane specialist for The Weather Channel.
The center of the storm was expected to approach southwestern Haiti and Jamaica today, according to The Weather Channel. Because Matthew is expected to remain a powerful storm into at least Tuesday, hurricane warnings were in effect for all of Jamaica and Haiti and for the Cuban provinces of Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, Granma and Las Tunas.
"It's all in God's hands," Sister Joanne Belmonte of the Missionaries of the Poor, a Jamaican Catholic relief organization, told NBC News.
"There's no point in worrying, because if it's going to come, it's going to come," she said. "But you would be foolish if you didn't prepare for it."
The U.S. government began preparations to airlift hundreds of people from its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Haiti, where as much as 25 inches of rain is expected, reaching 40 inches in isolated areas, began evacuating residents by boat from outlying islands.
The U.S. Agency for International Development said Sunday night that it had deployed two disaster response teams to Haiti and Jamaica as the hurricane center warned that the raging rainfall likely will produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.
Davis said Matthew will make its way to the Bahamas by Wednesday, but after that it's too early to know whether it will head for the U.S. East Coast or make its way out to sea.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott was taking no chances, calling the storm "catastrophic" and urging residents to be prepared.
"If it hits our state, we could see impacts that we have not seen in many years," Scott said.
Matthew has killed at least two people: a 67-year-old man who was swept away by a stream in Uribia, Colombia, and a 16-year-old boy who was crushed by a boulder on the island of St. Vincent.