UPDATE 7-Powerful Hurricane Matthew swirls toward Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba
(Adds quote from Jamaican prime minister, planned closure of refinery)
By Rebekah Kebede
KINGSTON, Jamaica Oct 1 (Reuters) - Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful cyclone to form over the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007, churned across the Caribbean on Saturday on a path expected to put it over Jamaica and Haiti on Monday.
Matthew, with winds at about 150 miles per hour (240 kph), could make landfall as a major storm on Jamaica's southern coast, home to the country's capital, Kingston, and its only oil refinery.
The hurricane could also affect tourist destinations such as Montego Bay in the north and the southwest coast of flood-prone Haiti was also in harm's way, forecasters said.
Matthew was about 385 miles (620 km) southeast of Kingston on Saturday afternoon and the U.S. National Hurricane Center ranked it at Category 4 of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity. Earlier it had been ranked at the top Category 5.
"Matthew is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 15 to 25 inches (38-63 cm) over southern Haiti, with possible isolated maximum amounts of 40 inches," the Miami-based hurricane center said.
The hurricane could rival the destruction caused by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, but Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Reuters in a phone interview that he was cautiously optimistic.
"The impact of the hurricane will probably be similar or greater than Hurricane Gilbert, but our preparedness would be far better and therefore we would be able to mitigate the effects," Holness said, adding that he expects hits to both the tourism and agriculture sectors. Continuación...