Thou­sands flee, pre­pare as strong storm lashes Haiti

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By REUTERS in Les Cayes, 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.

ANDRES MARTINEZ CASARES / REUTERS

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.

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