Hur­ri­cane Matthew ham­mers western Haiti with deadly force

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

THE fiercest Caribbean storm in al­most a decade ripped into Haiti’s south­west­ern penin­sula early on Tues­day with 145 mile-per-hour (230kph) winds and storm surges, killing at least one per­son and dam­ag­ing homes.

The eye of the vi­o­lent and slow-mov­ing Cat­e­gory 4 storm was hov­er­ing over the western tip of Haiti, the US Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­tre said, pound­ing coastal vil­lages with strong gusts.

One man died as the storm crashed through his home in the beach town of Port Sa­lut, Haiti’s civil pro­tec­tion ser­vice said. He had been too sick to leave for a shel­ter, of­fi­cials said. One fish­er­man was killed in heavy seas over the week­end as the storm ap­proached, and another was miss­ing.

Overnight, Haitians liv­ing in vul­ner­a­ble coastal shacks on the Tiburon Penin­sula fran­ti­cally sought shel­ter as Matthew closed in, bring­ing heavy rain and gusts and driv­ing the ocean into sea­side towns. Sev­eral dis­tricts in south­ern Haiti were flooded, with crops in­un­dated with ocean and rain water.

About 3 feet (1 me­tre) of rain is forecast to fall over hills that are largely de­for­ested and so more prone to flash floods and mud­slides, threat­en­ing vil­lages as well as shanty towns in the cap­i­tal Port-au-Prince, where heavy rain fell overnight.

More than 9,000 peo­ple were hud­dled in shel­ters across Haiti, au­thor­i­ties said.

Life-threat­en­ing flash floods and mud­slides were likely in south­ern and north­west­ern Haiti, the hur­ri­cane cen­tre said. It ex­pected Matthew to re­main a pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane through at least Wed­nes­day night.

The outer bands of the storm had al­ready reached the area late on Mon­day, flood­ing dozens of houses in Les Anglais when the ocean rose, the mayor said. In the town of Les Cayes on the south­ern coast, the wind bent trees and the power went out.

“We have gusts of wind hit­ting the whole area and the peo­ple have fled to a shel­ter,” Les Anglais mayor Jean-Claude De­spierre said.

In the nearby town of Tiburon, the mayor said peo­ple who had been re­luc­tant to leave their homes also ran for cover 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.

Peo­ple in Haiti, the poor­est coun­try in the Amer­i­cas, are of­ten re­luc­tant to leave home in the face of storms, fear­ing their few be­long­ings will be stolen.

Civil pro­tec­tion au­thor­i­ties said 130 chil­dren were evac­u­ated by bus to a high school in the cap­i­tal from an or­phan­age in the shore­side Cite Soleil slum, which is made up of tin shacks and open sew­ers and is known as Haiti’s largest shanty town.

Au­thor­i­ties moved around 1,000 in­mates from at least four pris­ons to safer lo­ca­tions out­side the storm’s path, of­fi­cials said.

The hur­ri­cane comes at a time when tens of thou­sands of peo­ple are still liv­ing in tents in Haiti af­ter a 2010 earth­quake that killed more than 200 000 peo­ple.

Cases of cholera, a deadly dis­ease in­ad­ver­tently brought to the Caribbean coun­try by UN peace­keep­ers in 2010, had been ex­pected any­way to rise in the Oc­to­ber rainy sea­son.

The coun­try is due to hold a long-de­layed pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on Oc­to­ber 9. The of­fice of In­terim Pres­i­dent Jo­cel­erme Privert said there was no change to the elec­tion date.

Crawl­ing north at about 9mph (15kph), the strong­est Caribbean storm since Hur­ri­cane Felix in 2009 threat­ens to linger long enough for its winds and rain to cause great da­m­age in Haiti, where it will spend much of the day be­fore hit­ting Cuba and the Ba­hamas later yes­ter­day.

It could reach Florida by Thurs­day as a ma­jor hur­ri­cane, although weaker than at present, the hur­ri­cane cen­tre said. 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.

In Les Cayes about 150 peo­ple hud­dled with­out elec­tric­ity or food in the town’s largest shel­ter, a school.

“Since yes­ter­day we’ve had noth­ing ... We must sleep on the floor ... Ev­ery­one is hun­gry,” said Erick Cange, 69 years old, a res­i­dent of the La Sa­vanne neigh­bor­hood sur­round­ing the school.

The con­di­tions in the shel­ter com­pared un­favourably with Haiti’s neigh­bour Cuba. That is­land’s Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment tra­di­tion­ally puts ex­ten­sive ef­forts into sav­ing lives and prop­erty in the face of storms, and au­thor­i­ties have spent days or­gan­is­ing teams of vol­un­teers to move res­i­dents to safety and se­cure prop­erty.

The storm is ex­pected to make a di­rect hit later on Tues­day in the prov­ince of Guan­tanamo, which is home to the dis­puted US Naval base and mil­i­tary prison and also to a small Cuban city. The US Navy or­dered the evac­u­a­tion of 700 spouses and chil­dren of ser­vice per­son­nel as the storm ap­proached.

Guan­tanamo’s moun­tain­ous ter­rain is the coun­try’s sec­ond cof­fee pro­ducer af­ter nearby San­ti­ago, and the storm poses a ma­jor threat to the cur­rent har­vest.

The US Agency for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment said on Mon­day it was pro­vid­ing a com­bined $400000 in aid to Haiti and Ja­maica. The agency said in a state­ment it had pre-po­si­tioned re­lief sup­plies and was pre­par­ing to ship in ad­di­tional sup­plies to the cen­tral Caribbean. — Reuters.

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