One of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent history made its way over the Caribbean Sunday night, with winds reaching 145 mph, as residents of Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica prepared for the worst.
Hurricane Matthew, currently classified as a Category 4 storm after being downgraded from a Category 5, has led to hurricane warnings in all three countries. The center of the hurricane was forecast to pass to the east of Jamaica and near the southwestern tip of Haiti late Monday, potentially causing severe flooding, before hitting Cuba Tuesday afternoon.
"Wherever that center passes close to would see the worst winds and that's what's projected to happen for the western tip of Haiti," said John Cangilosi, a hurricane specialist at the US National Hurricane Center, to the Associated Press. "There is a big concern for rains there and also a big concern for storm surge."
Officials with Haiti's civil protection agency have been busy preparing for the storm, urging residents to evacuate their homes and head to one of the 1,300 emergency shelters across the country. In some areas, officials took to the streets to warn people to secure their homes and prepare emergency kits.
In Haiti, where steep, treeless terrain and an abundance of ramshackle houses make residents particularly vulnerable, many people appeared unaware of the dangers of the storm, the Associated Press reports.
In the La Savane neighborhood of the city of Les Cayes, approximately 2,000 residents refused to evacuate their homes, Reuters reports. Many continued to stay out late at night, socializing on their porches.
"The police and local authorities and our evacuation teams have been instructed to do all they can to move those people," said Interior Minister François Anick Joseph, according to Reuters. "They have also been instructed to move them by force if necessary. We have an obligation to protect those peoples lives, even against their will."
The country has proven especially susceptible to natural disasters in the past: more than 200,000 people were killed when a magnitude 7 earthquake hit six years ago. In 1963, Hurricane Flora washed away entire villages and resulted in thousands of deaths.
Meanwhile, in Cuba, evacuations and emergency preparations have been met with less resistance. As the Christian Science Monitor's David Iaconangelo reported on Saturday:
Cuba is well known for robust emergency-weather procedures, partly because of state powers that allow authorities to mandate evacuations and quickly mobilize heads of state institutions into leaders of emergency operations. "It is a multilevel process that starts with the young," noted the New York Times in 2013. "Grade school students practice evacuations; high-school students monitor neighborhoods to identify weak trees and other hazards."
"Tight state control means Cuba can mandate evacuations, mobilize quickly and put Dr. [José Rubiera, Cuba's national weather forecaster]’s face on every TV screen.”
As of Monday morning, meteorologists say it is still too soon to know which parts of the US may be in danger later in the week and next weekend, but the eastern Florida coast is likely to experience at least tropical storm-force winds.
This report contains material from Reuters and The Associated Press.