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'Extremely Dangerous' Hurricane Matthew Could Deliver Devastating Blow

Matthew will eventually 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.
IMAGE: Cuba hurricane preparations
People crowd a shop to buy food Sunday in Santiago, Cuba, before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew.Ramon Espinosa / AP

Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic tropical storm since 2007, continued on a path to land a heavy punch to Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, forecasters said early Monday.

"This is shaping up to be a devastating blow, especially to places like Haiti and Cuba," said Domenica Davis, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel.

At 8 a.m. ET on Monday, 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 at about 6 mph.

The National 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.

"It's kind of a resilient hurricane — it hasn't really wavered much in terms of its strength," Lowry said Sunday night. "It's a little bit unusual to go 48 hours with a category 4 or 5 hurricane and not to see some sort of fluctuation."

The center of the storm was expected to approach southwestern Haiti and Jamaica on Monday. With it 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," said Sister Joanne Belmonte of the Missionaries of the Poor, a Jamaican Catholic relief organization.

"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.

Related: What Makes a Hurricane Category 5?

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 will likely produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Davis said Matthew will eventually 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 so far: 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.