Powerful Hurricane Matthew strengthens slightly; moves closer to Central Florida

Gov. Rick Scott issues state of emergency for Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. – Central Florida is now in the "cone of uncertainty" as the track for Hurricane Matthew shifted west on Monday.

[WEATHER: Extended forecast | Radar | Warnings | Pinpoint Weather Zones]

[DOWNLOAD: Pinpoint, Hurricane apps | SHARE: Weather pictures]
[MORE: Hurricane info | Get Results for Hurricane Season]

The Monday night update from the National Hurricane Center shows Matthew off the coast of Florida as a Category 3 storm by Friday, with Florida's east coast and the Florida Keys in the storm's potential path.

As of 11 p.m., Matthew was moving north at 7 mph with winds 140 to 145 mph. The storm has deepened and moves closer. Thursday/Friday it will near the coast of Florida. Expect wind and rain later this week. 

Hurricane hunters said Matthew brings life-threatening rain, wind, and a storm surge expected in parts of Haiti late Monday and possibly overnight and into Tuesday.

Matthew's center will move near eastern Cuba late Tuesday, and move near or over portions of the southeastern and central Bahamas on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Brevard County officials are distributing free sandbags Tuesday at the Brevard Sheriff’s Office Farm, 2955 Pluckebaum Road, Cocoa, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Kings Park, 995 Chase Hammock Road, Merritt Island from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Earlier Monday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida as Hurricane Matthew continues on a path near the Florida coast.

Scott declared the state of emergency after a meeting with emergency management officials in Hialeah.

“Hurricane Matthew is a life-threatening category four hurricane and we must all take it seriously. If Hurricane Matthew directly impacts Florida, there could be massive destruction which we haven’t seen since Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami-Dade County in 1992," Scott said in a release. "That is why we cannot delay and must prepare for direct impact now." 

Scott urged families to be prepared for potential impacts of the storm. 

"This rainfall will produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides," the National Weather Service said Sunday. "Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."

The chief of Haiti's civil protection agency has revised the number of confirmed deaths related to the approaching Hurricane Matthew to one -- a fisherman whose body was found in rough waters off the south coast Monday.

Agency chief Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste had said early Monday that the body of two fishermen whose boats capsized in white-capped seas had been recovered but she later said that was wrong. She said a fisherman who went missing Sunday off the southern town of Aquin was still considered missing.

The one confirmed death in Haiti brings the total for the storm to at least three. One man died Friday in Colombia and a 16-year-old in St. Vincent and the Grenadines was killed Sept. 28 when the system passed through the eastern Caribbean.

The government banned boating along the country's coastlines starting Saturday.  But the head of an 80-member fishermen's association in the south coast town of Gressier says some fishermen were taking to the seas early Monday.

A direct hit on Haiti could be disastrous, with much of the country's infrastructure still weak after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. Haiti is also recovering from a cholera outbreak after the quake that killed another 10,000.

"Water systems are at risk as hurricane #Matthew's approaching," physician and researcher Keddy Moise tweeted. "Months of work fighting cholera could be lost."

The storm could also be brutal for Cuba, where many houses appear too weak to withstand a hurricane, CNN's Patrick Oppmann said Sunday.

"Just driving through Santiago today, I was struck by the number of people living in housing that looks like it's hundreds of years old," Oppmann said. "Wooden roofs, very old housing that looks like it could blow away in a heavy rainstorm -- not to mention a Category 4 storm."

[MORE: Gov. Scott urges Floridians to be prepared]

Things also might be tricky on higher ground. Officials warned inhabitants of the Sierra Maestra mountains, where Fidel Castro based his camp during the Cuban revolution, of possible mudslides from heavy rainfall.

A man who identified himself only as Orlando said he rents his newly restored three-bedroom home out to foreigners. He fretted the storm would damage his investment.

But he was sure that he, his wife and daughter would escape Matthew's wrath.

"We have endured a lot of hurricanes here," he said. "We will endure this one."

The United States is moving 700 employees and their families from its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Sunday. Military planes were to airlift people from the base to cities in Florida. Family pets will join the mandatory evacuations, base officials said.

Those getting evacuated are mostly nonessential personnel. There are no plans to evacuate the 61 prisoners detained at the facility that holds terror suspects.

"Remaining personnel and their families will be taking shelter in their homes or designated locations," base officials said.

It's unclear when the evacuees will be brought back, officials said.

In the next few days, Matthew is expected to dump 15 to 25 inches of rain on southern Haiti, with as much as 40 inches in some areas, the National Weather service said. Eastern Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba will get pummeled with as much as 25 inches in some areas.

Matthew briefly strengthened Friday night into a Category 5 storm, becoming the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean since Felix in 2007. But it is now a Category 4 storm, meaning it carries winds between 130 and 156 mph (209 to 251 kph).

"Some fluctuations in intensity are possible this weekend, but Matthew is expected to remain a powerful hurricane through Monday," the National Hurricane Center said.

In Jamaica, storm shelters opened as the nation braced for its first major hurricane since Gilbert in 1988.

Marcia Forbes, a business owner in Kingston, told CNN she was preparing for a rough couple of days.

She waited in line to fill her car with gasoline, brought in her potted plants and filled her bathtub with water in case service gets interrupted during the storm. She also placed sandbags against the shutters of her multimedia company and covered her office computers with plastic.

"Having lived through Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, I know what a Category 3 hurricane can do, (much) less a Category 4 or 5," she told CNN. "Everyone in my community is taking this hurricane seriously and getting their homes shuttered up."

Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness told journalists that while the hurricane posed a great risk to lives and property that it could also blow the economy off course, The Gleaner, a Jamaican newspaper, reported.

"The biggest concern is the impact on the economy. ... This weather event could derail our economic program," the newspaper quoted Holness as saying Saturday while touring areas that could be most affected by Matthew. "We are ensuring that all government agencies understand that they have a role in the speedy recovery. That speedy recovery will ensure that our economy does not suffer unnecessarily."

"Of course, on a local level, community level, we expect that we will see significant damage to property and dislocation and human suffering that will come from such an event if we do not prepare. It could be significant."

Many people, however, didn't plan to evacuate. Several women in Port Royal, a fishing village outside Kingston, said their families would hunker down in St. Peter's, the local church.

A woman told CNN she believed the shelters are unsafe.

"We're just going to get some rain and breeze," said the woman, who gave her name as Josephine. "We can ride it out in the church."

Another Port Royal woman, who also planned to shelter in the church, said the government always warned people to leave. She said her house only lost its roof in Hurricane Ivan, a 2004 Category 5 storm that passed near Jamaica, killing at least 14 people and leaving thousands homeless.

The woman acknowledged some fear, but she had weathered Ivan. "You know, I trust in God," she said.

IBC Airways has canceled all flights Monday to and from Guantanamo Bay because of the approaching storm.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines and Fly Jamaica Airways issued travel warnings for their customers, saying change fees may be waived for flights to some destinations.

Central Florida forecast

"We are pinpointing more scattered showers and storms into the afternoon on Monday," News 6 meteorologist Troy Bridges said. "The coverage will be high mainly after 2 o'clock."

Expect a 70 percent coverage of showers and storms Monday afternoon, and a 50 percent coverage for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The high temperature will reach 90 degrees in Orlando. The average high on this date is 88.

"Afternoon highs will remain in the upper 80s through Wednesday," Bridges said. "Expect mid-80s by Thursday."

About the Author:

From chasing tornadoes and tracking the tropics, to forecasting ice storms and other dangerous weather, Troy Bridges has covered it all.