Hurricane Matthew churned across the Caribbean, nearing Haiti with devastating force early Tuesday after claiming its first victims in the impoverished island nation.
The most menacing storm in nearly a decade, Matthew buffeted Haiti’s southern coast with strong winds, as rising sea levels caused extensive flooding among the area’s flimsy homes and buildings that have left residents exposed to natural disaster.
The hurricane, which was swirling only 55 kilometres off the coast of the Americas’ most destitute country just before dawn, had already caused flooding in 11 communes overnight, Edgar Celestin, a spokesman for Haiti’s civil protection agency, told AFP.
Due to fierce winds, teams had yet to arrive in the area to assess the number of homes destroyed and other damage.
More than 6,400 people had been evacuated to temporary shelters by 0600 GMT across Haiti, officials said. During the day, civil protection forces had struggled with locals who refused to leave some of the most vulnerable areas.
They included the extremely impoverished, densely populated neighborhoods of Cite Soleil — where some 100,000 of the total 500,000 residents face serious flooding risks — and the capital’s Cite L’Eternel by the sea.
One sickly woman died Monday evening in the coastal town of Port-Salut when she was unable to leave her house to receive medical care, authorities said.
On Friday, a fisherman died after his boat sank in southern Haiti, and another individual went missing in similar circumstances Sunday.
In the third city of Cayes, sea water had reached the streets, helped by heavy rains.