Hurricane Matthew forces Guantanamo Bay evacuations

Some 700 spouses and children will be moved out of the base.

Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. CREDIT: AP/Rodrigo Abd
Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. CREDIT: AP/Rodrigo Abd

Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful cyclone to form over the Atlantic in nearly a decade, has forced the Navy to airlift non-essential personnel like spouses and children out of the controversial Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba Sunday.

The Navy said it will evacuate personnel family members to a Florida base. “The remaining military and civilian personnel will shelter in place and be able to support recovery efforts once safe to do so following the storm’s passage,” the Navy said in a press release.

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The oldest U.S. base overseas — notorious for holding detainees with alleged connection to terrorism — is now holding 61 detainees, and is staffed by about 2,000 temporary troops and contractors, the Miami Herald reported. About 6,000 people live in Guantanamo Bay including about 250 school-age children and their Navy families, as well 2,000 Jamaican and Filipino contract laborers.

The structural integrity of the building that houses the detainees has been questioned in the past, according to the Miami Herarld, but the current commander, Navy Rear Adm. Peter Clarke called it “structurally safe” in May.

Hurricane Matthew, the strongest storm since Hurricane Felix hit the region in 2007, is a Category 4 of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity. On Saturday it was ranked Category 5.

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Hurricane Matthew is threatening to hit Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, and the western part of the Dominican Republic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. As a Category 4, Matthew has wind speeds of some 150 miles per hour.

On Saturday night Matthew was about 360 miles southeast of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, Reuters reported. Haiti, a country still recovering from the 2010 earthquake that killed some 300,000 people, could see some 40 inches of rain in some areas.

Hurricane Matthew wind speed intensity forecasts Sunday. CREDIT: NOAA
Hurricane Matthew wind speed intensity forecasts Sunday. CREDIT: NOAA

As people stock with supplies and brace for the hurricane, there are worries that Matthew could devastate chronically empoverished Caribbean countries. “The hurricane will cause an interruption, obviously, in our economic activities here,” Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Reuters Saturday,

Forecasts reports Sunday show that Matthew is moving northwest, but it’s yet unclear if it will hit the United States, though it could hit Cuba Tuesday.

As human-caused climate change exacerbates, the planet is experiencing more extreme weather events like hurricanes. A graph of natural catastrophes over the last century shows a clear rise in number of meteorological and hydrological events, including storms and floods.

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Scientists have linked worsening Atlantic storms to global warming. “Rising sea levels exacerbated Sandy’s storm surge, for example, a direct link between global warming and storm damage. And abnormally high sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic probably intensified the storm,” writes NASA.