Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Powerful Hurricane Matthew Soaks Colombia, Heads for Jamaica

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Powerful Hurricane Matthew Soaks Colombia, Heads for Jamaica

Article excerpt

KINGSTON, Jamaica * One of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent history weakened a little on Saturday as it drenched coastal Colombia and roared across the Caribbean on a course that threatened Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba.

Matthew briefly reached the top hurricane classification, Category 5, and was the strongest Atlantic hurricane since Felix in 2007.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Matthew's winds had slipped slightly from a peak of 160 mph to a still-potentially devastating 150 mph and it was expected to near eastern Jamaica and southwestern Haiti on Monday.

The latest forecast had Matthew's path passing closer to Haiti than before and the center issued a hurricane warning for Jamaica and "much of Haiti," and said life-threatening rainfall was expected in parts of the impoverished Caribbean nation.

The forecast track would also carry Matthew across Cuba and into the Bahamas, with an outside chance of a brush with Florida, though that would be several days away.

"It's too early to rule out what impacts, if any, would occur in the United States and Florida," said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman at the Hurricane Center.

As Matthew skimmed past the northern tip of South America there were reports of at least one death the second attributed to the storm.

Authorities in the area overall breathed a sigh of relief as the storm triggered heavy flooding in towns along the La Guajira peninsula of Colombia, but damage overall was minimal. Some officials were even grateful for the rain after a multiyear drought in the poverty-stricken area.

"Families that evacuated are returning to their homes," said La Guajira Gov. Jorge Velez. "The dikes and wells filled up, the earth is moist, and this benefits agriculture in an area where it hasn't rained for five years, benefiting the community."

Authorities say that at least 27 houses were damaged and two roads were washed out. One person, a 67-year-old indigenous man, was carried away to his death by a flash flood in an area where it hadn't rained for four years.

Elsewhere, all across Colombia's Caribbean coastline, authorities have set up emergency shelters, closed access to beaches and urged residents living near the ocean to move inland in preparation for storm surges. …

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