Hur­ri­cane Matthew threat­ens Haiti, Ja­maica, Cuba

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By David McFad­den

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI >> An ex­tremely dan­ger­ous Hur­ri­cane Matthew moved slowly over the Caribbean on Sun­day fol­low­ing a track that au­thor­i­ties warned could trig­ger dev­as­ta­tion in parts of Haiti.

The pow­er­ful Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane had winds of 145 mph at late af­ter­noon and the cen­ter was ex­pected to pass across or very close to the south­west­ern tip of Haiti late Mon­day be­fore reach­ing Cuba on Tues­day, the U.S. Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter in Mi­ami said.

A hur­ri­cane warn­ing was in ef­fect for Ja­maica, Cuba and Haiti. Fore­cast­ers said the south­ern Haitian coun­try­side around Jeremie and Les Cayes could see the worst of it.

“Wher­ever that cen­ter passes close to would see the worst winds and that’s what’s pro­jected to hap­pen for the western tip of Haiti,” said John Cangilosi, a hur­ri­cane spe­cial­ist at the U.S. cen­ter. “There is a big con­cern for rains there and also a big con­cern for storm surge.”

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 reach the U.S. coast.

Of­fi­cials with Haiti’s civil protection agency said there were roughly 1,300 emer­gency shel­ters across the coun­try, enough to hold up to 340,000 peo­ple. Au­thor­i­ties broad­cast warn­ings over the ra­dio telling peo­ple to swiftly heed evac­u­a­tion warn­ings, try­ing to counter a com­mon ten­dency for peo­ple to try to stay in their homes to pro­tect them dur­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

“The shel­ters are open but I don’t be­lieve we have any­one inside them just yet,” said Joseph Edgard Ce­lestin, a spokesman for the civil protection agency.

In a Sun­day ad­dress car­ried on state ra­dio, in­terim Pres­i­dent Jo­cel­erme Privert urged Haitians to lis­ten closely to the warn­ings of of­fi­cials and be ready to move at a mo­ment’s no­tice.

“Don’t just think that God is good,” he said.

Teams of civil protection of­fi­cials walked the streets of Les Cayes and other ar­eas urg­ing res­i­dents to se­cure their homes, pre­pare emer­gency kits and warn their neigh­bors. Many Haitians ap­peared un­aware of the loom­ing hur­ri­cane.

“No, I haven’t heard any­thing about a bad storm com­ing here,” farmer JeanBernard Mede said with a con­cerned ex­pres­sion as he took a break from walk­ing three cows along a dirt track out­side the flood­prone town of Leogane. “I’ll do what I can for my an­i­mals and my fam­ily.”

Fore­cast­ers said the slow­mov­ing hur­ri­cane was ex­pected to dump 15 to 25 inches of rain over south­ern Haiti, with a few places get­ting as much as 40 inches.

The im­pov­er­ished coun­try is par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to dev­as­tat­ing floods be­cause of the steep ter­rain, with hill­sides and moun­tains of­ten de­void of trees that hold back wa­ter be­cause they have been cut down to make char­coal for cooking fires. Many Haitians live in flimsy houses that are not able to with­stand a se­ri­ous storm, typ­i­cally built of scraps of wood with cor­ru­gated metal roofs.

As of 5 p.m. EDT, the storm was cen­tered about 320 miles south-south­west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It was mov­ing north­west at 5 mph.

A hur­ri­cane watch was posted for the south­east­ern Ba­hamas and Turks and Caicos Is­lands. A trop­i­cal storm warn­ing was in ef­fect for parts of the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, where au­thor­i­ties be­gan manda­tory evac­u­a­tions of ar­eas at risk for flood­ing.

The hur­ri­cane ear­lier had been pro­jected to be closer to Ja­maica, but still was a dan­ger to the is­land.

“The cen­ter of the sys­tem is look­ing more likely that it will pass to the east of Ja­maica but it won’t miss it by that much, so they are still go­ing to see im­pacts,” Cangilosi said. “The im­pacts are maybe go­ing to be a lit­tle lower there than they would be in Haiti and eastern Cuba.”

Af­ter pass­ing Ja­maica and Haiti, Matthew was pro­jected to reach Cuba, po­ten­tially strik­ing on Tues­day near the U.S. Navy base at Guan­tanamo Bay, where au­thor­i­ties were evac­u­at­ing non-es­sen­tial per­son­nel, in­clud­ing about 700 fam­ily mem­bers of those serv­ing there.

Every­one re­main­ing be­hind was being told to take shel­ter, said Julie Ann Ri­p­ley, a spokes­woman. There are about 5,500 peo­ple liv­ing on the base, in­clud­ing 61 men held at the de­ten­tion cen­ter for ter­ror­ism suspects.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A worker nails a board to use on a store­front win­dow as protection against Hur­ri­cane Matthew in Kingston, Ja­maica, on Satur­day.

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