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PICTURES: Thousands flee as Hurricane Matthew slams into Haiti

In nearby Jamaica, officials said the army and military reserves were called up to help deal with hurricane damage.

Waves caused by Hurricane Matthew impact on the malecon in Baracoa, Cuba, earlier today.
Waves caused by Hurricane Matthew impact on the malecon in Baracoa, Cuba, earlier today.

HURRICANE MATTHEW SLAMMED into Haiti today, triggering floods and forcing thousands to flee the path of a storm that has already claimed three lives in the poorest country in the Americas.

The US National Hurricane Center said Matthew made landfall shortly after daybreak as an “extremely dangerous” Category Four storm near the southwestern town of Les Anglais, packing maximum sustained winds of around 230 kilometers per hour.

It marked the first time in 52 years that a Category Four storm made landfall in Haiti.

The storm could hit the US east coast around mid-week.

Also the most menacing storm in the Caribbean in nearly a decade, Matthew began battering Haiti late last night with strong winds and rising sea levels, before barreling ashore some 400 kilometres west of the capital Port-au-Prince.

The eye of the storm was expected to hit the far eastern end of Cuba later in the day, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center reported at 7pm irish time..

Even before making landfall along the southern edge of a jagged peninsula on Hispaniola – the island that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic – Matthew was blamed for at least three deaths in Haiti, with fears that the toll could climb.

Haiti Tropical Weather Wind blows coconut trees during the passage of Hurricane Matthew in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, earlier today. Source: AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery

Matthew notched a four on the five-level Saffir-Simpson wind scale, the first Category Four hurricane to make landfall in Haiti since Cleo in 1964, the NHC said.

The hurricane was forecast to dump 38 to 63 centimeters of rain over southern Haiti with up to a meter possible in isolated areas.

Rising waters already have caused extensive flooding in and around the flimsy homes and buildings in Haiti’s southwest.

Haiti Tropical Weather A food vender puts out her goods for sale during a rain triggered by Hurricane Matthew in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, today. Source: Dieu Nalio Chery

More than 9,000 Haitians have been evacuated to temporary shelters at area schools and churches, the Interior Ministry said. But civil protection forces have struggled with locals who refused to leave some of the most vulnerable areas.

They included the capital’s extremely impoverished, densely populated neighborhoods, including Cite Soleil – where one fifth of the half-million residents face serious flooding risks – and the seaside Cite L’Eternel.

First deluge, then mudslides

Part of the seaport city of Les Cayes was underwater after being deluged by Matthew, which now is blamed for triggering mudslides.

“We have already recorded a landslide between Les Cayes and Tiburon” in Haiti’s Sud department, Marie-Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti’s civil protection, told AFP.

Haiti is home to almost 11 million people, many living in fragile housing.

Haiti Tropical Weather A tap-tap truck carrying commuters drives through a street flooded by rain brought by Hurricane Matthew. Source: Dieu Nalio Chery

Thousands are still living in tents in Haiti after the country’s massive earthquake in 2010. Erosion is especially dangerous because of high mountains and a lack of trees and bushes in areas where they have been cut for fuel.

UNICEF said it worries in particular about the plight of Haiti’s vulnerable children.

“Water-borne diseases are the first threat to children in similar situations – our first priority is to make sure children have enough safe water,” the group said.

Blankets, plastic sheeting

In nearby Jamaica, officials said the army and military reserves were called up to help deal with hurricane damage. Buses were also sent to flood-prone areas to move residents to shelters.

USAID said it has dispatched an elite disaster response team to Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

It also is sending some $400,000 in assistance to aid groups in Haiti and Jamaica for “critical relief to those impacted by the storm,” and emergency relief supplies, including blankets, plastic sheeting and collapsible water containers.

Jamaica Tropical Weather People stand on the coast watching the surf produced by Hurricane Matthew, on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica, yesterday. Source: Eduardo Verdugo

The Red Cross has also deployed disaster teams to the countries most severely affected by Matthew.

Cuba has evacuated some 316,000 people from the east of the island, where Matthew was expected to hit later Tuesday.

The Pentagon said 700 family members were evacuated over the weekend from the Guantanamo Bay US naval base, on Cuba’s eastern tip, to Florida.

The 61 prisoners who remain at the US prison for terror suspects there will stay put but if the storm gets worse they will be moved to shelters on the base, the Pentagon said.

Forecasters predict the hurricane could hit the US East Coast around midweek. Florida and parts of North Carolina have declared states of emergency.

President Barack Obama on today postponed a trip to South Florida, where he had planned to attend a campaign event in support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“If #Matthew directly impacts FL there will be massive destruction that we haven’t seen in years,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said on Twitter.

© AFP 2016

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