Matthew strengthens to Category 4 storm headed for Jamaica, Cuba

KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - Hurricane Matthew strengthened on Friday into the Caribbean's first major hurricane in four years as it moved towards Jamaica and Cuba with winds of up to 140 miles per hour (220 kph) powerful enough to wreck houses, forecasters said.

Matthew was about 465 miles (750 km) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) designated it as a Category 4, the second strongest on the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.

It is forecast to make landfall as a major storm on Monday on Jamaica's palm-fringed southern coast, home to tourist resorts as well as the capital and Jamaica's only oil refinery.

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CARIBBEAN SEA - OCTOBER 1: In this NOAA handout image, taken by the GOES satellite at UTC: 1447Z shows Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean Sea just south of Cuba and Jamacia on October 1, 2016. Matthew is now a strong Category 4 hurricane, in the central Caribbean Sea after weakening from a Category 5 overnight. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
A man collects plastic and glass bottles in the canal of Portail Leogane, in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on October 1, 2016. As Hurricane Matthew threatens the Caribbean on Sunday, Haitians worry about flooding of the canal due to the accumulation of garbages. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Part of a street is reflected in a puddle near the canal of Portail Leogane, in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, on October 1, 2016. As Hurricane Matthew threatens the Caribbean on Sunday, Haitians worry about flooding of the canal due to the accumulation of garbages. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
A small market is reflected in a puddle near the canal of Portail Leogane, in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, on October 1, 2016. As Hurricane Matthew threatens the Caribbean on Sunday, Haitians worry about flooding of the canal due to the accumulation of garbages. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman sells sandals in a street near the canal of Portail Leogane in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on October 1, 2016. As Hurricane Matthew threatens the Caribbean on Sunday, Haitians worry about flooding of the canal due to the accumulation of garbages. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
A man repairs a bicycle in the Champ de Mars Square in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, on October 1, 2016. Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in a decade, churned towards Jamaica and Haiti Saturday on a path that forecasters said could eventually take it to the eastern United States. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Jamaicans stand next to shopping carts filled with bottled water and other items outside a supermarket, pending the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in Kingston, Jamaica, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy
Jamaicans check flashlights at a supermarket pending the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in Kingston, Jamaica, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy
Jamaicans flock to the supermarkets to take care of last minute shopping pending the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in Kingston, Jamaica, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy
Jamaicans flock to the supermarkets to take care of last minute shopping pending the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in Kingston, Jamaica, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy
Tropical Storm Matthew, which has since gained hurricane strength, is seen in an image captured by NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite at 1pm ET (17:00 GMT) September 29, 2016. NOAA/NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
SALINA, CURACAO -  SEPTEMBER 29: Flooded area is seen after the Matthew hurricane in Salina, Curacao on September 29, 2016. In Salina, which is one of the wellknown centre in Curacao, hurricane Matthew caused flood. The storm, which became hurricane category one, will past 230 km away from Curacao.  (Photo by Paco Nunez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SALINA, CURACAO -  SEPTEMBER 29: Flooded area is seen after the Matthew hurricane in Salina, Curacao on September 29, 2016. In Salina, which is one of the wellknown centre in Curacao, hurricane Matthew caused flood. The storm, which became hurricane category one, will past 230 km away from Curacao.  (Photo by Paco Nunez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Waves are seen as Hurricane Matthew approaches, in Kingston, Jamaica October 2, 2016. REUTERS/Henry Romero
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Despite the sunny weather and a few scattered clouds, many Kingstonians were stocking up on water and food on Friday in preparation.

Jamaica was hard hit by hurricane Gilbert in 1988, and the last major hurricanein the region was Sandy, in 2012.

Tenaj Lewis, 41, a doctor who was stocking up at the MegaMart grocery store in Kingston on Friday afternoon said Jamaica was much better prepared forhurricanes than it was when Gilbert hit.

"The country literally shut down for months," she said. Since then, hurricanes have brought a few days of power outages to the island nation, but haven't been nearly as destructive.

Matthew is also forecast to skim past the south coast of Haiti on Monday bringing tropical storm conditions.

Haiti has been hard hit by natural disasters in the past, and officials said preparation efforts were focused in the south of the country.

"We will prepare with drinking water for the patients, with medication, with generators for electricity, available vehicles to go look for people at their homes," said Yves Domercant, the head of the public hospital in Les Cayes in the south.

In Cuba, which has a strong track record of keeping its citizens out of harm's way when storms strike, residents of the eastern coastal city of Santiago de Cuba said they were tracking the news closely, although skies were still blue.

"We don't know yet exactly where it will go, so we're still waiting to see," said Marieta Gomez, owner of Hostal Marieta, who was following the storm closely on TV and radio. "We Cubans are well prepared."

The storm killed one person in St. Vincent and the Grenadines earlier in the week.

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