Hurricane Matthew has killed at least 339 people in Haiti, including dozens in one coastal town that authorities and rescue workers were only beginning to reach days after the storm, officials said on Thursday.
The Interior Ministry, a mayor and other local officials confirmed the numbers across Haiti, with many victims killed by falling trees, flying debris and swollen rivers when Matthew hit with 230km/h winds on Tuesday.
Most of the fatalities were in towns and fishing villages around the western end of Tiburon peninsula in the country’s southwest, one of Haiti’s most picturesque regions. The storm passed directly through the peninsula, driving the sea inland and flattening homes on Monday and Tuesday.
“Several dozen” died in the coastal town of Les Anglais in Sud Department, said Louis Paul Raphael, the central government’s representative in the region. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Raphael.
Les Anglais was the first to be hit by Matthew and has been out of contact since then. Just before the storm hit, the mayor said people were fleeing their houses in panic as the sea surged into town.
A few miles south in Port-a-Piment village Mayor Jean-Raymond Pierre-Louis said 25 people died. Further south still, in the village of Roche-a-Bateau, 24 died. In Grand Anse Department, also on the storm’s destructive path but on the other side of the peninsula, 38 more lost their lives.
In one public hospital in Les Cayes, a port town on the Tiburon peninsula, most doctors had not shown up to work since they took shelter as the storm hit. Food and water was scarce in shelters.
The devastation in Haiti prompted authorities to postpone a presidential election scheduled for Sunday.
‘MATTHEW’ NEARS FLORIDA
As Matthew blew through the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday en route to Florida’s Atlantic coast, it became an “extremely dangerous” hurricane carrying winds of 220km/h, the US National Hurricane Centre said.
That made it a Category 4 hurricane and it was likely to remain so as it approached the United States, where it could either take direct aim at Florida or brush along the state’s coast through Friday night, the centre said.
It was too soon to predict where Matthew might do the most of its damage in the United States but the National Hurricane Centre’s hurricane warning extended up the Atlantic coast from southern Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina. More than 12 million people in the United States were under hurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel.
Roads in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were jammed and gas stations and food stores ran out of supplies as the storm approached with not just high winds but strong storm surges and drenching rain.
Florida Governor Rick Scott warned there could be “catastrophic” damage if Matthew slammed directly into the state, and urged some 1.5 million people there to heed evacuation orders.
“If you’re reluctant to evacuate, just think about all the people who have been killed,” Scott said at a news conference on Thursday. “Time is running out. This is clearly either going to have a direct hit or come right along the coast and we’re going to have hurricane-force winds.” (Reuters)