Thousands flee, prepare as strong storm lashes Haiti
Haitians living in vulnerable coastal shacks frantically sought shelter as the strongest Caribbean storm in nine years, Hurricane Matthew, closed in on the southwestern peninsula, sending storm surges, wind and rain into seaside towns.
Matthew, a violent Category 4 storm packing 230 kph winds, was due to pound the western tip of Haiti early on Tuesday, the US National Hurricane Center said.
The center said in an advisory on Tuesday that “lifethreatening rain, wind and storm surges” began to spread over portions of the country.
The outer bands of the cyclone had already reached the area late on Monday, flooding dozens of houses in the town of Les Anglais when the ocean rose, the local mayor said. In the town of Les Cayes on the southern coast, the wind bent trees and the power went out.
“Wehave gusts of wind hitting the whole area and the people have fled to a shelter,” said Les Anglais mayor JeanClaude Despierre. In Tiburon, another town nearby, the mayor said people who had been reluctant to leave their homes also fled when the sea rose.
“Everyone is trying to find a safe place to protect themselves, the situation is very difficult,” mayor Remiza Denize said, describing large waves hitting the town.
The storm is forecast to spread hurricane force winds and up to several meters of rain across denuded hills prone to flash floods and mudslides, threatening villages as well as shanty towns in the capital Port-au-Prince.
“This is the most vulnerable suburb in the area. Here people are going about organizing things, we know that the hurricane is coming,” said Afou, a volunteer at a children’s home made of tin sheeting on the rubbish-strewn seashore of Haiti’s Cite Soleil slum in the capital.
“If things are bad then we will come together,” said Afou, who only gave his first name. Later, civil protection authorities said 130 children were evacuated by bus from another orphanage in the slum to a high school in the capital.
The Mayor of Cite Soleil, Frederic Hislain, said 150,000 people whose homes were threatened needed to be bused to safer places, but accepted that many people would not want to leave. PoorHaitians are often loath to leave home in the face of storms, fearing their few belongings will be stolen.
Matthew is forecast to sweep over Cuba to the Bahamas on Tuesday and possibly reach Florida by Thursday as a major hurricane, though weaker than at present. Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Florida on Monday, designating resources for evacuations and shelters and putting the National Guard on standby.
A woman with two of her children rest on the floor at the shelter set up in the Lycee Philippe Guerrier ahead of Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Monday.