One dead, homes damaged as hurricane reaches Haiti
The fiercest Caribbean storm in almost a decade has ripped into Haiti’s south western peninsula, packing 230km/h winds and storm surges that killed at least one person and damaged homes.
The eye of the violent Category 4 storm has made landfall in western Haiti, the US National Hurricane Center said.
One man died when a wave crashed through his home in the beach town of Port Salut, Haiti’s civil protection service said.
He had been too sick to leave for a shelter, officials said.
Overnight, Haitians living in vulnerable coastal shacks frantically sought safe shelter as Hurricane Matthew closed in sending storm surges, wind and rain into seaside towns.
Matthew is also forecast to sweep over Cuba to the Bahamas today and possibly reach Florida by tomorrow as a major hurricane, though weaker than at present.
The hurricane centre has said “life-threatening rain, wind and storm surges” began to spread over portions of Haiti.
The outer bands of the cyclone had already reached the area late last night, flooding dozens of houses in the town of Les Anglais when the ocean rose.
In the town of Les Cayes on the southern coast, the wind bent trees and the power went out.
In Tiburon, another town nearby, the local mayor said people who had been reluctant to leave their homes also fled when the sea rose.
“Everyone is trying to find a safe place to protect themselves, the situation is very difficult,” Mayor Remiza Denize said, describing large waves hitting the town.
The storm is forecast to spread hurricane force winds and rain across denuded hills prone to flash floods and mudslides, threatening villages as well as shanty towns in the capital Port-au-Prince.
“This is the most vulnerable suburb in the area. Here people are going about organising things, we know that the hurricane is coming,” one volunteer who worked at a children’s home in Haiti’s Cite Soleilslum said.
Civil protection authorities said 130 children were evacuated by bus from another orphanage in the slum to a high school in the capital.
The Mayor of Cite Soleil said 150,000 people whose homes were threatened needed to be bussed to safer places, but accepted that many people would not want to leave.
Poor Haitians are often loathe to leave home in the face of storms, fearing their few belongings will be stolen.
The cyclone comes at a bad time for Haiti, where tens of thousands of people still live in tents after a 2010 earthquake that killed upwards of 200,000 people.
Cholera introduced by UN peacekeepers is expected to rise in the October rainy season, and the country was due to hold a long-delayed presidential election in five days’ time.
The office of Interim President Jocelerme Privert said there was no change to the election date.
On the north coast, some 300 detainees were transferred from their prison near the sea in the town of Jeremie, the interior ministry said.
The storm is expected to make a direct hit later today in the province of Guantanamo, the disputed home to a US Naval base and military prison but also a small Cuban city.
“We are receiving people living in villages prone to flooding,” said Alexis Iglesias, head of the evacuation committee at Guantanamo University which was being used as shelter.
“Food is guaranteed and we have a generator that will guarantee that the kitchen keeps on working in case of a power cut,” he said, at the shelter, where some 400 people were staying.