Hurricane Matthew barreled its way through the Caribbean and roared toward Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba on Monday.
Meteorologists said the Category 4 storm could pose a threat to the United States by week's end.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the dangerous storm has top sustained winds near 130 mph. It was expected to pass to the east of Jamaica and then cross over or be very close to the southwestern tip of Haiti late Monday or early Tuesday.
Matthew briefly reached maximum Category 5 status Friday, making it the strongest Atlantic hurricane in almost a decade. The storm was expected to remain a powerful and dangerous hurricane into Tuesday, forecasters said.
"Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," the hurricane center warned on its Facebook page.
Matthew could dump up to 25 inches of rain over much of southern Haiti, with "isolated maximum amounts of 40 inches," the hurricane center warned. Eastern Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba could see 10 to 20 inches of rain with 25 inches in isolated areas. In addition, storm surges in the region could cause catastrophic flooding.
Although the official forecast showed a track east of Florida, the hurricane center said it was still too soon to rule out possible possible hurricane impacts there — or how Matthew might affect the remainder of the U.S. east coast.
In Haiti, families were being urged to stock up on food and water, and evacuations were underway in high-risk areas. The Haitian Civil Protection Agency said it had 576 temporary shelters available that can accommodate up to 88,252 people for at least 3 days.
"This could be catastrophic for some places, particularly Haiti," National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen told USA TODAY. "This is an area where trees just don't exist (due to deforestation). The terrain is stripped, and the threat of major flash floods and mudslides is very real."
Hurricane warnings were in effect for the north coast of Haiti, Jamaica and eastern Cuba. Watches were issued for the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas and parts of Cuba.
In Jamaica, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Reuters his nation was braced for the storm, which could be the most severe for his nation since Gilbert killed more than 40 Jamaicans and dumped more than 30 inches of rain in some areas in 1988.
"The impact of the hurricane will probably be similar or greater than Hurricane Gilbert, but our preparedness would be far better," Holness said.