sandbags at the ready

US braces for Hurricane Matthew as worst Caribbean storm in a decade kills 27

After it wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, the storm could make landfall in Florida this evening.

Tropical Weather Bus drivers wait for word to start evacuating in Greenville, South Carolina. Mic Smith / PA Images Mic Smith / PA Images / PA Images

THE UNITED STATES has begun evacuating coastal areas as Hurricane Matthew churned toward the Bahamas, after killing at least 27 people in the Caribbean.

Haiti’s presidential election, scheduled for Sunday, was postponed after Matthew blasted the impoverished nation, knocking out a key bridge providing access to the country’s south where the storm made landfall.

Matthew, the worst storm to hit the Caribbean in nearly a decade, also forced the closure of airports in the Bahamas.

All cruise ships have been re-routed from the popular tourist destination, the government said.

“Seriously consider now moving to higher grounds. Natural phenomena can be violently unpredictable,” Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie said, addressing southern coastal communities.

US President Barack Obama warned Americans in the storm’s path — including more than a million people told to evacuate from vulnerable coastal areas — to take the threat seriously.

“We hope for the best, but we want to prepare for the worst,” he said.

The storm slammed into Haiti and Cuba as a Category Four hurricane on Tuesday but has since been downgraded to three, on a scale of five, by the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Its winds were howling at 185 km/h.

No relief

The NHC said Matthew’s recent weakening would be “short-lived,” forecasting that the storm would intensify as today progressed.

In the southeastern US state of Florida, a frequent target of hurricanes, residents were calm — with Matthew on track to approach the coast Thursday evening.

“I cannot emphasize it enough that everyone in our state must prepare now for a direct hit,” said Governor Rick Scott, as evacuation orders were issued — some voluntary, some mandatory — across different parts of the state.

Schools and universities closed for the rest of the week, authorities were distributing sandbags for doorways, and store shelves were bare.

“We’re not really afraid, Florida has been through this thing for years,” said Rick Basel, 63, a retiree loading his car with food and water to last three or four days.

Tropical Weather Queues at a Florida petrol station. Wilfredo Lee / PA Images Wilfredo Lee / PA Images / PA Images

Further north in South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley ordered the evacuation of several coastal counties, affecting more than one million people.

The order included the historic city of Charleston, a tourist magnet boasting cobblestone streets lined with graceful antebellum homes.

News footage showed bumper to bumper jams on highways and tensions were high as some petrol stations ran out of fuel.

“Please do not call 911 because a gas station is out of gas. Remember to be patient with one another,” the police department in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina said on Twitter.

The state’s emergency authority warned against price gouging and reminded would-be profiteers that such practices could be punishable by a $1,000 fine, 30 days in jail, or both.


Haiti Tropical Weather Residents walk into a destroyed home after it was damaged by Hurricane Matthew in Saint-Louis, Haiti. Dieu Nalio Chery / PA Dieu Nalio Chery / PA / PA

As Matthew barreled northwest, Haiti and Cuba began the grim task of assessing the storm’s toll.

Matthew’s overall death toll stood at 27 — 23 in Haiti and four in the Dominican Republic — but looked certain to climb.

The United Nations office for coordinating humanitarian affairs said half of Haiti’s population of 11 million was expected to be affected in one way or another.

Across the region more than 600,000 people are in emergency shelters, more than half of them in Haiti where thousands have lived in tents since the massive earthquake in 2010, the UN said.

At least 350,000 people in Haiti need immediate assistance, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said, quoting the Haitian government.

The US military said it is sending helicopters, an aircraft carrier and troops to provide humanitarian assistance to Haiti — which had not been hit by a Category Four storm in 52 years.

In Cuba, where some 1.3 million people were evacuated, there were no reported fatalities but four cities in the east were cut off because roads were blocked by large chunks of rock hurled by the storm.

© – AFP 2016

Read: Evacuations in US after ‘monster storm’ Matthew kills 9 in Caribbean >

Read: Thousands flee as Hurricane Matthew slams into Haiti >

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