Hurricane Matthew damage said the worst since 2010 earthquake

Haiti crisis

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A United Nations official said yesterday that Hurricane Matthew has created the biggest humanitarian crisis in Haiti since the devastating earthquake of January 2010.

Deputy Special Representative for Haiti Mourad Wahba said in a statement that 10,000 people were forced from their homes into shelters and communications systems have been knocked out in the country’s hard-hit south-western peninsula.


Wahba said officials have received reports of destroyed houses and overcrowded hospitals and shortages of fresh water. The hospital in the city of Les Cayes, he said, had its roof blown off.


Damage appeared to be widespread, but because of poor communication, blocked roads and washed-out bridges the full extent of the damage was not immediately clear, nor was the number of deaths.


Chief of Haiti’s civil protection agency, Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, up to last evening, insisted that the body of a fisherman, which was discovered Monday, was the only confirmed death related to Hurricane Matthew. The fisherman’s body was found in rough waters off the south coast, but the body of a colleague who was with him has not been discovered, so he was only listed as missing.


Matthew was also blamed for the death of one man in Colombia on Friday and that of a 16-year-old in St Vincent and the Grenadines when the system passed through the Eastern Caribbean last Wednesday.


Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti’s south-western tip with howling 145 mph winds yesterday, tearing off roofs in the poor and largely rural area of Petit-Goâve, uprooting trees and leaving rivers bloated and choked with debris.


It marked the first time in 52 years that a Category Four storm made landfall in Haiti.


The storm — at one point the most powerful hurricane in the region in nearly a decade — dumped heavy rain as it swirled on toward Cuba and The Bahamas. Forecasters said it could hit Florida toward the end of the week and push its way up the East Coast of the United States over the weekend.


The dangerous storm blew ashore around dawn in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, hitting a corner of Haiti where many people live in shacks of wood or concrete blocks.


The country’s Civil Protection Agency said many homes were damaged or destroyed and people had to wade through flooded streets to rescue their belongings and find higher ground.


"It’s the worst hurricane that I’ve seen during my life," said Fidele Nicolas, a civil protection official in Nippes, just east of where Matthew came ashore. "It destroyed schools, roads, other structures."


The storm left the peninsula that runs along the southern coast of Haiti cut off from the rest of the country. Many streets were flooded or blocked by landslides and fallen trees. Local radio reported that the water was shoulder high in parts of the city of Les Cayes.


Milriste Nelson, a 65-year-old farmer in the town of Léogâne, said his neighbours fled when the wind ripped the corrugated metal roof from their home. His own small yard was strewn with the fruit he depends on for his livelihood.


"All the banana trees, all the mangoes, everything is gone," Nelson said as he boiled breadfruit over a charcoal fire in the grey morning light. "This country is going to fall deeper into misery."


Haitian authorities had tried to evacuate people from the most vulnerable areas ahead of the storm, but many were reluctant to leave their homes. Some sought shelter only after the worst was already upon them, making their way through debris-strewn streets amid pounding rain.


"Many people are now asking for help, but it’s too late, because there is no way to go evacuate them," said Fonie Pierre, director of Catholic Relief Services for Les Cayes, who was huddled in her office with about 20 people.


Matthew was expected to bring 15 to 25 inches of rain, and up to 40 inches (100 centimetres) in isolated places, along with up to 10 feet (three metres) of storm surge and battering waves.


"They are getting everything a major hurricane can throw at them," said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the US National Hurricane Center in Miami.


Matthew briefly reached the top classification, Category Five, as it moved across the Caribbean Sea late last week, becoming the strongest hurricane in the region since Felix in 2007.


The storm was late afternoon yesterday centred about 55 miles (90 kilometres) south-west of the eastern tip of Cuba and was moving north near 10 mph (17 kph).


The centre of the storm was projected to pass about 50 miles north-east of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


In Cuba, workers removed traffic lights from poles in the city of Santiago to keep them from getting blown away.


In the United States, Florida Governor Rick Scott urged coastal residents to prepare for the possibility of a direct hit and keep three days’ worth of food, water and medicine. The Red Cross put out a call for volunteers in South Carolina, and the White House said relief supplies were being moved to emergency staging areas in the southeast.


"We do not know yet whether the centre of Matthew will actually come ashore in Florida. That’s possible," said Rick Knabb, director of the hurricane centre.


 



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