BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Matthew brought flooding and felled trees to islands in the eastern Caribbean on Wednesday and forecasters said the 13th cyclone of the 2016 Atlantic season would reach hurricane force later this week.
Matthew moved over the Windward Islands, causing flooding in coastal areas of volcanic St. Lucia and knocking out power lines and trees in Barbados.
Airports in tourist hotspots Barbados and St Lucia were closed because of the storm, which the U.S. National Hurricane Center said packed maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour (100 kph).
"Strengthening is expected during the next couple of days, and Matthew is forecast to become a hurricane by Friday," before possibly turning towards Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba, the Miami-based center said.
In Barbados, which is the most easterly of the Caribbean islands and rarely suffers major storms, schools, courts and businesses closed on Wednesday, as resident hunkered down for the first big storm since 2010.
"We ask all persons to remain indoors for your safety,” said Kerry Hinds, the director of the Department of Emergency Management.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect in Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, Dominica, Barbados, St. Vincent, and the Grenadine Islands, the Hurricane Center said.
The Dutch Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba - home to Venezuelan oil refineries and storage terminals - were on storm watch, the center said.
It warned that expected rainfall of up to 8 inches (20.32 cm) could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides as the storm makes its way across the region.
Additional reporting by Sarah Peter in St. Lucia.; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Tom Brown and Sandra Maler