Hur­ri­cane slams Haiti

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By David McFad­den As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers Ben Fox and Jen­nifer Kay in Mi­ami and Dan­ica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Hur­ri­cane Matthew slammed into Haiti’s south­west­ern tip with howl­ing, 145 mph winds Tues­day, tear­ing off roofs in the poor and largely ru­ral area, up­root­ing trees and leav­ing rivers bloated and choked with de­bris. At least nine deaths were blamed on the storm dur­ing its week-long march across the Caribbean.

Fore­cast­ers said Matthew could hit Florida to­ward the end of the week and push its way up the East Coast over the week­end.

The dan­ger­ous Cat­e­gory 4 storm — at one point the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane in the re­gion in nearly a decade — 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. It un­loaded heavy rain as it swirled on to­ward a lightly pop­u­lated part of Cuba and the Ba­hamas.

Da­m­age in the hard­esthit part of Haiti ap­peared to be wide­spread, but be­cause of spotty com­mu­ni­ca­tions, blocked roads and washed-out bridges, the full ex­tent was not im­me­di­ately clear. Nor was the num­ber of deaths.

The coun­try’s Civil Pro­tec­tion Agency said many homes were dam­aged or de­stroyed.

“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.”

Mourad Wahba, U.N. sec­re­tary-gen­eral’s deputy spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Haiti, said much of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion had been forced from their homes, at least 10,000 peo­ple were in shel­ters and hos­pi­tals were over­flow­ing and run­ning short of water. The roof was blown off the hospi­tal in the city of Les Cayes, he added.

Wahba’s state­ment called the hur­ri­cane’s de­struc­tion the “largest hu­man­i­tar­ian event” in Haiti since the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake of Jan­uary 2010.

At least three deaths were blamed on the storm in Haiti, in­clud­ing one per­son whose home was crushed by a tree in Port Sa­lut and a 26-year-old man who drowned try­ing to res­cue a child who had fallen into a rush­ing river, au­thor­i­ties said. The child was saved.

Four deaths were recorded in the neigh­bor­ing Do­mini­can Repub­lic and one each in Colombia and in St. Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines.

The storm left the penin­sula that runs along the south­ern coast of Haiti cut off from the rest of the coun­try. Many streets were im­pass­able be­cause of flood­ing, land­slides or 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 Leogane, said his neigh­bors 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 man­gos, ev­ery­thing is gone,” Nel­son said as he boiled bread­fruit over a char­coal fire in the gray 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.

“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 the Les Cayes area, 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 cen­time­ters) in iso­lated places, along with up to 10 feet (3 me­ters) of storm surge and bat­ter­ing waves.

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

Matthew briefly reached the top clas­si­fi­ca­tion, Cat­e­gory 5, as it moved across the Caribbean late last week, be­com­ing the strong­est hur­ri­cane in the re­gion since Felix in 2007.

As of 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), the storm was cen­tered about 30 miles (45 kilo­me­ters) south­west of the east­ern tip of Cuba. It was mov­ing north at close to 9 mph (15 kph). Its sus­tained winds were down slightly to 140 mph (220 kph).

The cen­ter was pro­jected to pass about 50 miles north­east of the U.S. naval base at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba.

Hours be­fore the hur­ri­cane’s ex­pected ar­rival, a light rain fell on Cuba’s east­ern­most city, Bara­coa, and the wind be­gan whip­ping the palm trees. Au­thor­i­ties moved res­i­dents from the three blocks clos­est to the sea, and about 100 tourists were moved to a ho­tel in cen­tral Bara­coa, where win­dows were cov­ered with sheet metal and wood.

Work­ers re­moved traf­fic lights from poles in the Cuban city of San­ti­ago to keep them from get­ting blown away.


Waves crash against a sea­wall in Bara­coa, Cuba, on Tues­day be­fore the ar­rival of Hur­ri­cane Matthew.


Res­i­dents head to a shel­ter in Leogane, Haiti, on Tues­day.

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