Hurricane Matthew strengthens, hurricane warning expanded

Red Cross workers and residents walk among the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. The hurricane rolled across the sparsely populated tip of Cuba overnight, destroying dozens of homes in Cuba's easternmost city, Baracoa, and leaving hundreds of others damaged.(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

MIAMI (AP) — Forecasters say Hurricane Matthew has gained new muscle over the Bahamas and they are also expanding the hurricane warning area further up the Southeast Atlantic seacoast from Florida into Georgia.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says Matthew’s top sustained winds have risen from 115 mph (185 kph) to 125 mph (205 mph) in just a few hours early Thursday as the storm continues to batter the central Bahamas.

The center says it is extending a hurricane warning area already covering a large swath of Florida’s Atlantic coast further northward to Altamaha Sound, Georgia. It also says a newly expanded hurricane watch now extends from the Altamaha Sound up the coast to the South Santee River in South Carolina.

The center added in its 5 a.m. Thursday update that Matthew should gain further in intensity over the next day or so and is forecast to become a Category 4 storm as it approaches Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Matthew’s center is now about 255 miles (410 kilometers) southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida, and moving northwest at 12 mph (19 kph) over the Bahamas.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Matthew is still a powerful Category 3 storm right now. Matthew was briefly a very dangerous Category 5 storm on its march across the Caribbean.

A hurricane warning means hurricane conditions are expected in the area within 36 hours. A hurricane watch means the conditions are possible in the area within 48 hours.

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