Bahamas and US warned to brace for Hurricane Matthew's power
Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest Caribbean storm in almost a decade, powered toward the Bahamas and Florida early yesterday, after battering Haiti and Cuba with torrential rains and killing at least 10 people.
The hurricane, which the UN said created the worst humanitarian crisis to hit struggling Haiti since the devastating 2010 earthquake, whipped Cuba and Haiti with 230kph winds on Tuesday, pummelling towns, farmland and resorts.
Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from the storm, which caused severe flooding and killed four people in the Dominican Republic as well as at least six in Haiti, the two countries that share the island of Hispaniola.
Matthew was a Category Four hurricane through Tuesday but was downgraded to Category Three early yesterday.
The eye of the storm was about 185km south of Long Island in the Bahamas yesterday morning and it is expected to be very near the east coast of Florida by this evening.
It was difficult to assess the severity of the impact on Haiti because Matthew knocked out communications in many of the worst-affected areas, including the main bridge that links much of the country to the southwest peninsula.
There was particular concern about the tens of thousands of people who are still living in tents and makeshift dwellings after the 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people. Two people were crushed by trees and two were swept away by swollen rivers.
Mourad Wahba, the UN 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 shelters.
"Haiti is facing the largest humanitarian event witnessed since the earthquake six years ago," he said.
Heifer International, a non-profit organisation working with farming families in Haiti, said farmland and businesses caught in Matthew's path had been devastated.
The US government said it was ready to help the afflicted and about 300 US 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 in Cuba of deaths, casualties or major damage.
Cuba's government has traditionally made extensive efforts to cope with hurricanes and authorities spent days organising volunteers to get residents to safety and secure property.
Matthew thrashed the tourist town of Baracoa in the province of Guantanamo, passing close to the disputed US Naval base and military prison. It 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 the government offices in New Providence and Grand Bahama had been closed until further notice.
Hurricane and tropical storm warnings were extended along the east coast of Florida, as well as Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.