Thursday 8 December 2016

Hurricane Matthew: Almost 900 killed in Haiti as storm hits US leaving millions without power

* Death toll rises to at least 842 in Haiti
* Four dead and a million without power in US
* Cholera also claims lives in Haiti
* Obama warns of storm surge threat
* Mass evacuations in four US states

Joseph Guyler Delva and Scott Malone

Published 08/10/2016 | 00:54

Homeowner Joe Lovece surveys the damage to the kitchen at the back of his oceanfront home after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Ormond Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Homeowner Joe Lovece surveys the damage to the kitchen at the back of his oceanfront home after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Ormond Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Rain batters homes as the eye of Hurricane Matthew passes Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
The roof of a gas lays collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Nassau, Bahamas, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Aylen)
Rich Poslusny removes debris from the road in front of his house after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Curtains flutter in the wind after a window was blown out at the LaPlaya Resort & Suites after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Homeowner Joe Lovece stands on what had been the back patio of his oceanfront home after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Ormond Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Homeowner Joe Lovece surveys the damage to the kitchen at the back of his oceanfront home after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Ormond Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
An official vehicle navigates debris as it passes along Highway A1A after it was partial washed away by Hurricane Matthew in Flagler Beach, Florida. Photo: AP

Hurricane Matthew killed almost 900 people and left tens of thousands homeless in Haiti before plowing northward over waters just off the US southeast.

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The number of deaths in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, surged 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 death tolls given by officials.

Matthew triggered mass evacuations along the U.S. coast from Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina and North Carolina.

U.S. President Barack Obama urged people not to be complacent and to heed safety instructions.

"The potential for storm surge, loss of life and severe property damage exists," Obama told reporters after a briefing with emergency management officials about the fiercest cyclone to affect the United States since Superstorm Sandy four years ago.

 Matthew smashed through Haiti's western peninsula on Tuesday with 145 mile-per-hour (233 kph) winds and torrential rain. Some 61,500 people were in shelters, officials said, after the storm pushed the sea into fragile coastal villages, some of which were only now being contacted.

The roof of a gas lays collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Nassau, Bahamas, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Aylen)
The roof of a gas lays collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Nassau, Bahamas, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Aylen)
Rain batters homes as the eye of Hurricane Matthew passes Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Rich Poslusny removes debris from the road in front of his house after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Curtains flutter in the wind after a window was blown out at the LaPlaya Resort & Suites after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Homeowner Joe Lovece surveys the damage to the kitchen at the back of his oceanfront home after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Ormond Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Homeowner Joe Lovece stands on what had been the back patio of his oceanfront home after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Ormond Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Homeowner Joe Lovece surveys the damage to the kitchen at the back of his oceanfront home after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Ormond Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
An official vehicle navigates debris as it passes along Highway A1A after it was partial washed away by Hurricane Matthew in Flagler Beach, Florida. Photo: AP
A fallen tree is seen outside a house in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Saint Anne church lays totally destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Camp Perrin, a district of Les Cayes, Haiti, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
A religious statue lays broken in the rubble of the Saint Anne church, destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Camp Perrin, a district of Les Cayes, Haiti, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
A girl lugs buckets of drinking water after the passing of Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
Traffic stacks up on I-75 North fleeing the coast and Hurricane Matthew on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, near McDonough, Ga. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Residents and vehicles avoid a downed tree and power cable along a flooded roadway in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Nassau, Bahamas, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Aylen)
Traffic stacks up on I-75 North fleeing the coast and Hurricane Matthew on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, near McDonough, Ga. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Residents sleep in a hallway at a school used as a shelter while Hurricane Matthew approaches in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Henry Romero
A couple of pedestrians walk down a street as an outer rain band of Hurricane Matthew passes over Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S. October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack
Family members, from left, Briana Jeunice, 7, Vernea Jones, 30, Greg Jones III, 18-motnhs Greg Jones Sr., 36, and Zahava Alexander, 7, settle into the Red Cross shelter at the Samuel S. Gaines Academy building in Fort Pierce Fla., Thursday Oct. 6, 2016, as Hurricane Matthew approaches Florida's east coast (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)
A man and a woman walk on the beach as waves, wind and start ahead of Hurricane Matthew Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in Jacksonville Beach , Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
This GOES East satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Matthew moving northwest of Cuba towards the Atlantic coast of southern Florida, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.(NOAA via AP)
The first outer bands of rain from Hurricane Matthew pass over downtown Orlando, Fla., Thursday evening, Oct. 6, 2016. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
Palm trees sway in high gusts of wind, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in Vero Beach, Fla. Hurricane Matthew continues to make a path for Florida's east coast from the Bahamas. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Residents prepare a mattress at a school used as a shelter while Hurricane Matthew approaches in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Henry Romero
The body of a man who perished during Hurricane Matthew lies on a piece of wood as survivors prepare to place his body in a coffin, in Cavaillon, Haiti. Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
Girls hold hands as they help each other wade through a flooded street after the passing of Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
Saint Anne church lays totally destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Camp Perrin, a district of Les Cayes, Haiti, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
Electronic devices stand near an office destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
A statue's head lays in the rubble of the Saint Anne church destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Camp Perrin, a district of Les Cayes, Haiti, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
Personal items lie scattered outside homes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
General view after Hurricane Matthew passes Petit Goave, Haiti, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Destroyed houses and boats are seen in a village after Hurricane Matthew passes Corail, Haiti, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Destroyed houses are seen in a village after Hurricane Matthew passes Corail, Haiti, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Destroyed houses are seen in a village after Hurricane Matthew passes Corail, Haiti, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People carry their belongings on the street after Hurricane Matthew passes Jeremie, Haiti, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Workers bury two bodies after Hurricane Matthew passes Jeremie, Haiti, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman carries a laundry basket in an area devastated by Hurricane Matthew in Cavaillon, Haiti, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Destroyed houses are seen after Hurricane Matthew hit Jeremie, Haiti, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A street vendor sells food on the side of a road after Hurricane Matthew hit Les Cayes, Haiti, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

While highlighting the misery of underdevelopment in Haiti, which is still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake, the storm looked certain to rekindle the debate about global warming and the long-term threat posed by rising sea levels to low-lying cities and towns.

At least three towns in the hills and coast of Haiti's fertile western tip reported dozens of people killed, including the farming village of Chantal where the mayor said 86 people were killed, 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 driver Jean-Pierre Jean-Donald, 27, who had been married for only a year.

"People came to lift the rubble, and then we saw my wife who had died in the same spot," Jean-Donald said, his young daughter by his side, crying "Mommy."

The roof of a gas lays collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Nassau, Bahamas, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. The head of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Authority, Capt. Stephen Russell, said there were many downed trees and power lines, but no reports of casualties. (AP Photo/Tim Aylen)
The roof of a gas lays collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Nassau, Bahamas, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. The head of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Authority, Capt. Stephen Russell, said there were many downed trees and power lines, but no reports of casualties. (AP Photo/Tim Aylen)

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, likely because of flood water mixing with sewage.

The Mesa Verde, a U.S. Navy amphibious transport dock ship, was heading for Haiti to support relief efforts. The ship has heavy-lift helicopters, bulldozers, fresh water delivery vehicles and two surgical operating rooms.

FOUR KILLED IN FLORIDA

Matthew sideswiped Florida's coast with winds of up to 120 mph (195 kph) but did not make landfall in the state. The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) downgraded the storm to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity as its sustained winds dropped to 110 mph. Category 5 is the strongest.

There were at least four storm-related deaths in Florida but no immediate reports of significant damage in cities and towns where the storm swamped streets, toppled trees and knocked out power to more than 1 million people.

Two people were killed by falling trees, according to Florida officials, and an elderly couple died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator while sheltering from the storm inside a garage.

A fallen tree is seen outside a house in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
A fallen tree is seen outside a house in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters
Homeowner Joe Lovece surveys the damage to the kitchen at the back of his oceanfront home after the eye of Hurricane Matthew passed Ormond Beach, Florida. Photo: Reuters

Hurricane warnings early on Saturday extended up the Atlantic coast from northeast Florida through Georgia and South Carolina and into North Carolina.

Flash flood warnings were also in effect as 15 inches (40 cm) of rain was expected to accumulate in parts of the region along with storm surges and high tides, the National Weather Service said.

In Daytona Beach, the street under the city's famed "World's Most Famous Beach" sign was clogged with debris washed up by the ocean. The waves had receded by early afternoon but there was damage throughout the city, including a facade ripped off the front of a seaside hotel.

Robert Walker, a 51-year-old mechanic, weathered the worst of the storm in his seaside Daytona Beach apartment where high-powered winds peeled back the roof.

"It sounded like a jet plane coming over. I was scared," said Walker as he stood in front of the battered remains of the two-story building..

At 1:45 a.m. EDT (0545 GMT), Matthew's eye was about 95 miles (155 km) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, and moving northward at 12 mph (19 kph), the NHC said.

After passing near or over the coast of Georgia it was on a track that would put it near or over South Carolina later on Saturday. Though gradually weakening, it was forecast to remain a hurricane until it begins moving away from the U.S. Southeast on Sunday, the NHC said.

RELUCTANT TO LEAVE

Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he was concerned that relatively light damage so far could give people up the coast a false sense of security.

"People should not be looking at the damages they're seeing and saying this storm is not that bad," Fugate told NBC.

"The real danger still is storm surge, particularly in northern Florida and southern Georgia. These are very vulnerable areas. They've never seen this kind of damage potential since the late 1800s," Fugate said.

In St. Augustine just south of Jacksonville, Florida, about half of the 14,000 residents refused to heed evacuation orders despite warnings of an 8-foot (2.4-meter) storm surge that could sink entire neighborhoods, Mayor Nancy Shaver said in a telephone interview from the area's emergency operations center.

Television images later showed water surging through streets in the historic downtown area of St. Augustine, the oldest U.S. city and a major tourist attraction.

"There's that whole inability to suspend disbelief that I think really affects people in a time like this," Shaver said.

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