Matthew strengthens to Category 4 storm headed for Jamaica, Cuba

By Rebekah Kebede 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. 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 hurricane in 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 for hurricanes 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. (Addtional reporting by Makini Brice in Port-Au-Prince, additional reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Vijaykumar Vedala in Bengaluru; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Grant McCool and Sandra Maler)