Haitians brace for a ‘dangerous’ Matthew
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.