Hurricane Matthew Barrels Through Bahamas After Killing 108 in Haiti

 

VOA News

Hurricane Matthew is pounding the Bahamas as it propels toward Florida, forcing residents and emergency workers there and in other southeastern U.S. states to hastily prepare for its arrival on Thursday.

At least 108 people in Haiti were killed after Hurricane Matthew slammed Tuesday into the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. This raised the overall death toll across the Caribbean to at least 114. The Category 4 storm was the strongest storm to make landfall in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, in 52 years.

Florida Governor Rick Scott told reporters Thursday Matthew will likely maintain its Category 4 classification with sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour when it begins to hit the state later in the evening.

“Time is running out. There are no excuses. You need to leave,” Scott said as he ordered the evacuation of some 1.5 million people. “Unfortunately this is going to kill people,” Scott added, underscoring the seriousness of the emergency situation.

Scott warned that highways in Florida are expected to be clogged with traffic as the storm edges closer.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami describes Matthew as «extremely dangerous» and warned of a dangerous storm surge and the possibility of at least 20 centimeters of rain as Matthew pounded Andros Island and Nassau on Thursday.

The forecast said Matthew could gain even more strength as it approaches the Florida coast. The latest forecast track predicts Matthew will move directly up the east coast of Florida throughout Friday.

In an interview with VOA, Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) spokesman Raphael Lemaitre cautioned residents in southeastern coastal states to heed evacuation and other warnings from local officials. “Regardless of the direction that this storm takes, it’s going to have significant impact.”

Lemaitre also said FEMA has personnel and other resources that may be needed for residents affected by Matthew.

“We have commodities on the ground already pre-located in several different staging areas throughout the potentially affected areas. Things like food, water, blankets, cots. We also have personnel on the ground there, rapid response teams.”

The coastal city of Saint Augustine, Florida is in a mandatory evacuation area, prompting resident and former VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins to temporarily move to an area north of the city. Dockins told VOA, “Very hard bands of rain” were sweeping through the area Thursday afternoon and the “winds are picking up.” She said many of the smaller stores had closed but larger chain stores remained open for business.

From Category 3 to 4

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami describes Matthew as “extremely dangerous and warned of a dangerous storm surge and the possibility of at least 20 centimeters of rain as Matthew pounded Andros Island and Nassau on Thursday.

The forecast said Matthew could gain even more strength while it approaches the Florida coast on Thursday. The latest forecast track predicts Matthew will move directly up the east coast of Florida throughout Friday.

Scott warned that highways in Florida are expected to be clogged with traffic as the storm edges closer.

Strongest in decades

Interim Haitian President Jocelerme Privert and administration officials are assessing the damage in Haiti after not being able to do so because of a washed-out bridge that cut off access to the most affected southern areas. Privert described the situation as “catastrophic” after flying over southern Haiti Wednesday in a U.S. Coast Guard plane.

The World Bank said it is in the process of allocating funds to help with relief efforts in Haiti and has a team of workers there.

“Our staff on the ground are already working with the ministry of public works to begin restoring access to hardest hit areas in the South of the country including a key bridge that was washed away,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

VOA Creole reporter Jean-Hernst Eliscar said many houses in the southern city of Les Cayes are flooded and have no roofs.

The United Nations office that is coordinating humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti said half of the country’s population of 11 million people has been affected by the storm. At least 350,000 people are in need of immediate assistance, the U.N. said.

The severe flooding in Haiti has already sparked a resurgence of cholera. Officials say eight cases have already been reported.

People try to cross the overflowing La Rouyonne river in the commune of Leogane, south of Port-au-Prince, Oct. 5, 2016.

People try to cross the overflowing La Rouyonne river in the commune of Leogane, south of Port-au-Prince, Oct. 5, 2016.

US dispatching helicopters, aircraft carrier, troops to Haiti

U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. forces in the Caribbean, told reporters Wednesday that the United States is sending nine military helicopters, an aircraft carrier and troops in response to the Haitian government’s request for help.

Some of the helicopters will be equipped for search and rescue missions and others for transporting supplies.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Dave Herman said the U.S. government is working «very diligently» with the Catholic Relief Services and the Red Cross to ensure relief aid is distributed to Haiti’s most vulnerable people.

Oxfam, a global anti-poverty confederation, said Thursday at least 10,000 Haitian people were displaced and in need of aid.

«Our first response will concentrate on saving lives by providing safe water and hygiene kits to avoid the spread of cholera,» said Oxfam official Jean Claude Finole.

Haiti has postponed its presidential election, scheduled for Sunday, because many schools and churches that were to serve as polling stations are being used to shelter thousands of displaced people. The head of Haiti’s provisional Electoral Council, Leopold Berlenger, said a new date for the elections will be decided by next week.

Cubans evacuated

About 1.3 million people have been evacuated in Cuba, where four cities were cut off because roads were blocked by large rocks thrown by the storm’s powerful winds. Dozens of homes were destroyed and hundreds of others damaged in the city of Baracoa. There have been no deaths reported in Cuba.

What you can do

In Washington Wednesday, President Barack Obama called on people to help hurricane victims in Haiti by donating to the USAID Center for International Disaster Information (www.cidi.org). “Find out how you can help make life a little bit easier for those who didn’t have a lot to begin with,” Obama said.

Georgia has declared states of emergency in 13 coastal counties.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has ordered the evacuation of several coastal counties where more than 1 million people reside.

Matthew is the strongest hurricane to tear through the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea since Hurricane Felix in 2007.

VOA’s Creole Service contributed to this report