Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti and Cuba on Tuesday coast, bringing gusts of up to 175 miles-per-hour that raised fears of “catastrophic” damage.
At least 11 people have been killed across the Caribbean, including five in Haiti where the Category 4 storm pummelled towns, farmland and resorts and forced hundreds of thousands of people to take cover.
“Haiti is facing the largest humanitarian event witnessed since the earthquake six years ago,” said Mourad Wahba, the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Haiti.
The storm was both powerful and slow-moving, a dangerous combination that led to rainfall estimated at 15-25 inches (38-64 cm) in south western Haiti, with more than three feet (0.9 meters) falling in some mountainous areas.
Many of Haiti’s 11 million people live in flimsy homes, and tens of thousands remain in tents or other temporary housing after the massive earthquake in 2010.
With communications out across most of Haiti and a key bridge impassable because of a swollen river, there was no immediate word on the full extent of potential casualties and damage from the storm in the poorest country in the Americas. Much of the western tip of Haiti was isolated and there was no word on dead and injured.
“It is too early to do a real assessment, but it has been very serious,” Haitian Interior Minister Francois Anick Joseph told Reuters.
Named for the sandy islands off its shore and twice destroyed by hurricanes in the 18th century, the Haitian port town Les Cayes was hit hard by Matthew.
“The situation in Les Cayes is catastrophic, the city is flooded, you have trees lying in different places and you can barely move around, the wind has damaged many houses,” said Deputy Mayor Marie Claudette Regis Delerme, who fled a house in the town of about 70,000 when the wind ripped the roof off.
Early reports suggested that Cuba had not been hit as hard as Haiti. In the city of Guantanamo, streets emptied as people moved to shelters or inside their homes.
Matthew is likely to remain a powerful hurricane through at least Thursday night as it sweeps through the Bahamas towards Florida and the Atlantic coast of the southern United States, the NHC said.
Preparations were already under way in the United States as coastal dwellers prepared to flee the approaching monster storm. South Carolina said it would start evacuating 1.1 million people from its coast starting on Wednesday and try to get them at least 100 miles) inland. Georgia declared a state of emergency in 13 counties.