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HAVANA, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) -- Eastern Cuba braced on Saturday for a possible direct hit from Matthew, a category 4 hurricane on the one-to-five Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds of up to 220 km per hour and heavy rains.

Cuba's national civil defense agency issued a hurricane watch for the island's eastern provinces, where Matthew was expected to make landfall late Monday, according to forecasts.

Over the previous 24 hours, the hurricane fluctuated between a category 4 and 5, reaching maximum sustained winds of 260 kmh, with stronger gusts, according to state daily Granma.

The numbers "convert (Matthew) into the strongest (storm) of the present hurricane season in the tropical Atlantic basin, and the first to reach this notable strength in the Caribbean Sea since October 2012's Sandy," the daily said.

Hurricane Sandy caused widespread damage to southeast Cuba, killing 11 people, and went on to cause catastrophic flooding in New York City, after making an unexpected left turn into the U.S. Eastern Seaboard as she traveled north.

Cuban authorities have started preparing for an imminent impact and evacuations of coastal areas.

"Numerous measures to protect state assets, as well as human lives, are being taken in ... six eastern provinces," the civil defense agency said in a statement on Saturday.

The Miami, Florida-based National Hurricane Center's (NHC) 2 p.m. bulletin described a "powerful Matthew meandering over the south-central Caribbean."

"Eastern Cuba should monitor the progress of Matthew," said the NHC, which also issued a hurricane watch for Jamaica and parts of Haiti, meaning they could begin to feel the effects of the storm in 48 hours.

In Cuba's second-largest city and the worst hit by Sandy in 2012, Santiago de Cuba, the civil defense agency opened shelters and organized volunteer teams to clean storm drains and gather food stocks.

"We have to work intensely and prepare really well for this dangerous hurricane," Granma cited the head of the Communist Party in Santiago de Cuba, Lazaro Exposito, as saying.

Hurricane Matthew killed almost 900 people and displaced tens of thousands in Haiti before plowing northward on Saturday just off the southeast US coast Cheap Nike Air Max Outlet , where it caused major flooding and widespread power outages.

The number of deaths in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, jumped to at least 877 on Friday as information trickled in from remote areas previously cut off by the storm, according to a Reuters tally of tolls from officials.

Matthew rampaged through Haiti's western peninsula on Tuesday with 233 kph winds and torrential rain. Some 61 Cheap Air Max 2018 Outlet ,500 people were in shelters, officials said, after the storm hurled the sea into fragile coastal villages, some of which were only now being contacted.

At least three towns in the hills and coast of Haiti's fertile western tip reported dozens of people killed Cheap Air Max 90 Outlet , including the farming village of Chantal where the mayor said 86 people died, mostly when trees crushed houses. He said 20 others were missing.

"A tree fell on the house and flattened it. The entire house fell on us. I couldn't get out," said 27-year-old driver Jean-Pierre Jean-Donald.

"People came to lift the rubble, and then we saw my wife who had died in the same spot Cheap Air Max Outlet ," said Jean-Donald, who had been married for only a year. His young daughter stood by his side, crying "Mommy."

With cellphone networks down and roads flooded, aid has been slow to reach hard-hit areas in Haiti. Food was scarce and at least seven people died of cholera Cheap Nike Air Max 2018 , likely because of flood water mixing with sewage.

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