Haitians brace for a ‘dan­ger­ous’ Matthew

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By David McFad­den

PORT- AU- PRINCE, Haiti — Heavy rains from the outer bands of Hur­ri­cane Matthew drenched Haiti and Ja­maica on Mon­day, flood­ing streets and send­ing many peo­ple to emer­gency shel­ters as the sprawl­ing Cat­e­gory 4 storm steamed to­ward the two Caribbean coun­tries.

Matthew had sus­tained winds of 140 mph as it moved north, up from 130 mph ear­lier in the day. The cen­ter was ex­pected to pass near or over the south­west­ern tip of Haiti on Tues­day morn­ing be­fore head­ing to eastern Cuba, the U.S. Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter in Mi­ami said.

“We are look­ing at a dan­ger­ous hur­ri­cane that is head­ing into the vicin­ity of western Haiti and eastern Cuba,” said Richard Pasch, a se­nior hur­ri­cane spe­cial­ist with the cen­ter. “Peo­ple who are im­pacted by things like flood­ing and mud­slides hope­fully would get out and re­lo­cate be­cause that’s where we have seen loss of life in the past.”

In Ja­maica, many took that ad­vice be­fore the is­land’s govern­ment dis­con­tin­ued a hur­ri­cane warn­ing and re­placed it with a trop­i­cal storm warn­ing as Matthew tracked closer to Haiti. More than 700 peo­ple packed shel­ters in the eastern parish of St. Thomas, and the Sal­va­tion Army said about 200 peo­ple were at its shel­ters in Kingston as it put out a call for mat­tresses and cots.

Many chose to stick it out at home. Lo­cal Govern­ment Min­is­ter Des­mond McKen­zie said all but four res­i­dents of the Port Royal area near the Kingston air­port re­fused to board buses and evac­u­ate.

In Haiti, au­thor­i­ties ex­pe­ri­enced a sim­i­lar prob­lem in some flood-prone Cubans ar­rive Mon­day in Guan­tanamo to get shel­ter from Hur­ri­cane Matthew, which threat­ened the Caribbean. ar­eas. In the Port-au-Prince sub­urb of Tabarre, of­fi­cials urged shan­ty­town res­i­dents liv­ing next to a muddy river to take shel­ter at a lo­cal school where cots were set up. But many re­fused, fear­ing their few pos­ses­sions might be stolen.

Haiti’s civil protection agency re­ported the death of a fish­er­man in rough wa­ter churned up by the storm. The re­ported death brought the to­tal for the storm to at least three. One man died Fri­day in Colom­bia, and a 16-year-old was killed in St. Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines on Sept. 28 when the sys­tem passed through the eastern Caribbean.

Au­thor­i­ties went door to door in Haiti’s south­ern cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie to make sure peo­ple were aware of the storm.

In an un­reg­u­lated sprawl of shacks built on hill­sides near the north­ern edge of Haiti’s cap­i­tal, some poor fam­i­lies did the best they could to re­in­force their tin-and-tarp houses. But most were just pray­ing they would get through the storm in the shanty metropo­lis of Canaan with­out get­ting hurt.

“I know my house could eas­ily blow away. All I can do is pray and then pray some more,” said Ron­lande Fran­cois. She lives with her hus­band and three chil­dren.

In Port- au- Prince, schools were closed and peo­ple lined up at gas sta­tions and cleared out shelves at supermarkets as a light rain fell in the cap­i­tal.

Some wor­ried t he crowded city might not fare well. “We are not pre­pared,” un­em­ployed ma­son Fritz Achelus said as he watched wa­ter pool on a down­town street.

Fore­cast­ers said the storm could dump as much as 40 inches of rain on some iso­lated ar­eas of Haiti, rais­ing fears of deadly mud­slides and floods in the heav­ily de­for­ested coun­try.

Matthew is one of the most pow­er­ful At­lantic hurricanes in re­cent his­tory and briefly reached the top clas­si­fi­ca­tion, Cat­e­gory 5, be­com­ing the strong­est hur­ri­cane in the re­gion since Felix in 2007.

The hur­ri­cane cen­ter said the storm ap­peared to be on track to pass east of Florida through the Ba­hamas, but it was too soon to pre­dict with cer­tainty whether it would threaten any spot on the U.S. East Coast. As a re­sult, the gov­er­nors of Florida and North Carolina de­clared states of emer­gency.

RA­MON ES­PINOSA/AP

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