BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Tropical Storm Matthew swirled westward into the open waters of the Caribbean early Thursday after hitting islands at the sea's southern entry with heavy wind and rain.
Matthew was taking an unusual southerly track through an area that gets relatively few tropical storms compared to the rest of the region. A tropical storm watch was posted for the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao off the northern coast of Venezuela.
Tropical storm-force winds extended out for 185 miles (295 kilometers) but Matthew wasn't expected to pose a serious threat to land for several days at it moves to the west and gains strength. It was forecast to become a hurricane by Thursday evening, then over the weekend turn to the north and head for Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Matthew had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph) with higher gusts. A wind gust of 89 mph (143 kph) was reported in Martinique.
Late Wednesday night, Matthew was centered about 370 miles (595 kilometers) south-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and 410 miles (665 kilometers) east-northeast of Curacao and was moving west at 15 mph (24 kph).
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.