Thursday 8 December 2016

Hurricane Matthew kills at least 17, takes aim at Bahamas

Published 05/10/2016 | 21:00

The road surface on Industrial Terrace is seen washed away due to the rain in Kingston, Jamaica before the passage of Hurricane Matthew on October 3, 2016
The road surface on Industrial Terrace is seen washed away due to the rain in Kingston, Jamaica before the passage of Hurricane Matthew on October 3, 2016
A woman pushes a wheelbarrow while walking in a partially flooded street, in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Two men remove a downed power line to allow vehicles passage, in Petit Goave, Haiti ( AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
The high winds of Hurricane Matthew roar over Baracoa, Cuba (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
People watch from the other side of the La Digue river as water roars past the destroyed Petit Goave bridge, as Hurricane Matthew passes over, in Petit Goave, Haiti ( AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
A wave crashes into a building on the waterfront in Baracoa, Cuba (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
The high winds and rain of Hurricane Matthew roar over Baracoa, Cuba (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A structure lays on the ground, brought down by the winds of Hurricane Matthew in Leogane, Haiti (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
Trees damaged by wind are seen during Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
People walk along a road after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Supporters of Fanmi Lavalas political party splash around in water on a flooded street as they take part in a gathering while Hurricane Matthew passes in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A view of trees damaged by the wind during Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
People walk on the road as rain falls during Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Trees sway with the wind during Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man pushes a bicycle in a flood zone after Hurricane Matthew passed through Les Cayes, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
A man pushes a wheelbarrow as he wades across a flooded street while Hurricane Matthew passes through Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A man stands near a house damaged by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Waves pound the waterfront in Baracoa, Cuba (AP)
Dean Legge pulls out a mattress at the home of his sister-law Josey Vereen, along Waccamaw Drive, in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S. October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill
Graylan Coleman (R) helps a relative remove furniture at a beachfront home along Waccamaw Drive in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S. October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill
Dean Legge (L), Steven Thigpen (R) and Graylan Coleman (C) help a relative remove furniture at a beachfront home along Waccamaw Drive in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S. October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill
Steven Thigpen (L) and Graylan Coleman (R) help a relative remove furniture at a beachfront home along Waccamaw Drive in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S. October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill
Dean Legge (L) helps his sister-law Josey Vereen (R) remove furniture from the lower level of her beachfront home along Waccamaw Drive in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S. October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill

Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest Caribbean storm in almost a decade, powered toward the Bahamas and Florida's eastern coast early on Wednesday after battering Haiti and Cuba with torrential rains and killing at least 17 people.

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The hurricane, which the United Nations said created the worst humanitarian crisis to hit struggling Haiti since a devastating 2010 earthquake, whipped Cuba and Haiti with 140 mile-per-hour (230 kph) winds on Tuesday, pummeling towns, farmland and resorts.

Men attempt to push a wheelbarrow across a flooded street while Hurricane Matthew passes through Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Men attempt to push a wheelbarrow across a flooded street while Hurricane Matthew passes through Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

In the United States, millions of people were urged to evacuate the southeastern coast and Florida Governor Rick Scott warned residents to prepare for a possible direct hit that could be catastrophic.

Hundreds of thousands of people had been evacuated from the path of the Matthew, which caused severe flooding and killed four people in the Dominican Republic as well as at least 13 in Haiti, the two countries that share the island of Hispaniola.

The storm carved a path of devastation through western Haiti, destroying houses, dumping boats and debris on coastal roads and heavily flooding residential areas.

Matthew was a Category Four hurricane through Tuesday but was downgraded to Category Three early on Wednesday, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Dean Legge (R) helps his sister-law Josey Vereen (L) remove a mattress at her beachfront home along Waccamaw Drive in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S. October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill
Dean Legge (R) helps his sister-law Josey Vereen (L) remove a mattress at her beachfront home along Waccamaw Drive in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S. October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill

Maximum sustained winds eased to about 120 mph (193 kph) by late Wednesday morning but the NHC said the hurricane was likely to strengthen again slightly in the coming days.

The eye of the storm was about 105 miles (169 km) south of Long Island in the Bahamas on Wednesday morning and it was expected to be very near the east coast of Florida by Thursday evening, the NHC said.

"Everyone in our state must prepare now for a direct hit," Scott said at a news conference in Tallahassee. "If Matthew directly impacts Florida, the destruction could be catastrophic and you need to be prepared."

It was difficult to assess the severity of Matthew's impact in Haiti because it knocked out communications in many of the worst-affected areas, including the main bridge that links much of the country to the southwest peninsula.

Impoverished Haiti was a particular concern because tens of thousands of people still are living in tents and makeshift dwellings due to the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.

DEADLY TREES

The road surface on Industrial Terrace is seen washed away due to the rain in Kingston, Jamaica before the passage of Hurricane Matthew on October 3, 2016
The road surface on Industrial Terrace is seen washed away due to the rain in Kingston, Jamaica before the passage of Hurricane Matthew on October 3, 2016

Authorities said on Wednesday five people in Haiti were crushed by trees and six were swept away by swollen rivers.

"More than 1,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed by the flood waters and violent winds," said Ernst Ais, the mayor of the town of Cavaillon, near Les Cayes. He said a mother and three children died in floodwaters in his town.

Three men were killed in Leogane, near Port-au-Prince, when a coconut palm fell on their home, the mayor there said.

Mourad Wahba, the U.N. secretary-general's deputy special representative for Haiti, said much of the population had been displaced by Matthew and at least 10,000 were in shelter.

"Haiti is facing the largest humanitarian event witnessed since the earthquake six years ago," he said.

Heifer International, a nonprofit organization working with farming families in Haiti, said farmland and businesses caught in Matthew's path had been devastated.

The U.S. government said it was ready to help the afflicted and about 300 U.S. Marines set off on the USS Mesa Verde to provide disaster relief in Haiti, the Marines said in a tweet.

There were no immediate reports of deaths, casualties or major damage in Cuba, where the government emphasized hurricane preparation. But Matthew did thrash the tourist town of Baracoa in the province of Guantanamo, gutting many houses and dumping hunks of cement, wooden beams, roof tiles and fallen electrical lines on the streets.

The storm passed close to the disputed U.S. Naval base and military prison, and was on track to mow over the central and northwestern Bahamas, the NHC forecasts showed.

Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city, which lies in the southeast of Cuba, was not badly hit, state media said.

Officials in the Bahamas urged residents to evacuate to higher ground and the Ministry for Grand Bahama said on Facebook that government offices in New Providence and Grand Bahama were closed until further notice.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings were extended along the east coast of Florida as the storm moved north.

South Carolina Governor Nikkei Haley on Tuesday declared a state of emergency, and ordered the evacuation of more than 1 million people from Wednesday afternoon.

Tropical storm or hurricane conditions could affect parts of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina later this week, even if the center of Matthew remained offshore, the NHC said. Scott told residents to brace for tornadoes, strong winds, rip currents and flooding and urged those along the state's eastern coast to make plans to evacuate.

Reuters

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