Matthew strengthened to a hurricane Thursday afternoon as it swirled westward into the open waters of the Caribbean after hitting islands at the sea's southern entry with heavy wind and rain.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Matthew had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph with higher gusts and was moving west at 14 MPH, sitting 125 miles north of Curacao.
Hurricane Matthew was expected to pass to the north of the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, before shifting on a course that was expected to take it toward Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti over the weekend.
Thursday's NHC track had Matthew staying just to the east of South Florida next week, but that could change and a threat to South Florida is not out of the question.
A tropical storm watch was in effect for Bonaire, Curacao, Aruba and the Colombia/Venezuela broder to Riohacha.
Gradual strengthening and a decrease in forward speed were expected into the weekend.
The storm crossed through the southernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles on Wednesday, dropping heavy rains and causing some wind damage. There were no immediate reports of damages or injuries as businesses, airports, schools and government offices closed throughout the area.
Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told people on that island, where tropical storms have turned deadly in the past, to stay indoors as heavy rain caused flooding in some areas.
“We want to advise people to stay home as much as possible so as not to be exposed to the possible hazards out there. Be safe everyone and let us all pray for better weather conditions,'' Skerrit said.
Many trees fell on the island of Barbados and there were isolated power outages, according to its National Emergency Operations Center.
The National Emergency Management Organization of St. Vincent said about 90 people had been moved into emergency shelters because their homes were in low-lying areas that were expected to flood.