COMPILED FROM STAFF
AND WIRE REPORTS
Hurricane Matthew pummeled Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas on its way to the United States as of the Florida Courier’s press time Wednesday afternoon (which was moved up to allow storm preparations).
The storm tore into Haiti’s southern coast early Tuesday, ripping off corrugated rooftops, toppling trees and flooding streets and agricultural fields in a country still struggling after a devastating earthquake six years ago.
The dangerous Category 4 storm, one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes in years, was carrying winds of 145 mph when it made landfall at 6 a.m. near the town of Les Anglais, on the southwestern tip of Haiti, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. At one point, Matthew was a Category 5 storm, making it the most powerful hurricane in the region in nearly a decade.
Death toll mounting
At least three deaths were blamed on the storm in Haiti and four more in neighboring Dominican Republic, bringing the death toll on the island of Hispaniola to seven as of Wednesday, with the toll expected to grow. There were also reports of two people killed in Colombia and in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The hurricane also rolled across the sparsely populated tip of Cuba overnight Tuesday, destroying dozens of homes in Cuba’s easternmost city, Baracoa, and leaving hundreds of others damaged.
By Wednesday morning, Matthew hit open water east of the Bahamian island of Inagua on the way to the capital of Nassau and to Florida’s Atlantic coast by Thursday evening.
In Haiti, many residents hunkered down in flimsy shacks that offered little protection from the howling wind, heavy rains and battering storm surges.
Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of the country’s civil protection agency, said more than 10 towns were flooded and numerous homes and boats destroyed. But landslides, downed trees and washed out bridges were hampering access to some communities, and authorities had not yet determined the full scale of the damage.
Officials had spent Monday trying to persuade residents in vulnerable coastal communities and in shantytowns around the capital, Port-au-Prince, to move into emergency shelters set up in churches and schools.
But many were too afraid to leave their homes, in case they were robbed.
Some sought shelter only after the worst of the storm hit, sloshing through knee-high water and debris-strewn streets in the pelting rain.
“There was panic in the cities of Jeremie and Les Cayes,” Alta Jean-Baptiste was quoted as saying in Haiti’s Le Nouvelliste newspaper. “The population was distraught because of the rise of the water.”
A video filmed in Les Cayes and shared on social media showed palm trees being whipped by fierce winds. “Pray for us!” a voice is heard yelling.
Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest country, is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people, and a deadly cholera outbreak blamed on U.N. peacekeepers who responded to the disaster.
“Thankfully the force of the storm was not so strong in Port-au-Prince, where 50,000 to 60,000 people are still living in tents after the earthquake of 2010,” said Jean Claude Fignole, a program director in Haiti for the international aid agency Oxfam.
Hunger is also likely to become a concern in the coming weeks and months, aid groups said. Some crops in the south of the country were destroyed.
“This comes right on the heels of one of the worst droughts in the last 50 years,” said Jessica Pearl, country director for the Portland, Ore.-based Mercy Corps. “For many households, this was the first decent harvest they were expecting, so to have this setback and loss is very difficult.”
The storm hit at a particularly difficult time for Haiti, as authorities were preparing for a long-delayed presidential election on Sunday. Government officials and aid agencies were anxious to avoid the kind of the delays, confusion and waste that marred the relief operations in 2010.
Here is some information that could be helpful for Floridians impacted by Hurricane Matthew.
Emergency management websites
State of Florida Division of Emergency Management: www.floridadisaster.org. 850-413-9969
•Federal Emergency Management Agency: www.fema.gov. 202-646-2500 Twitter: @fema
•Federal Alliance for Safe Homes: www.flash.org. 850-385-7233. Twitter: @FederalAlliance
•National Hurricane Center (includes storm tracking map, preparedness guide and other information): www.nhc.noaa.gov. Twitter: @NWSNHC
•Citizens Property Insurance: www.citizensfla.com. 1-888-685-1555. Twitter: @citizens_fla
•National Aeronautics and Space Administration Hurricane Resource Page: www.nasa.gov/ mission_pages/hurricane s/main/index.html. Twitter: @NASAHurricane
•Florida Power and Light: www.fpl.com/storm: Features checklists, information on how to report an outage and check on its status as well as other preparation tips. Twitter: @insideFPL.
Google has enhanced its weather forecasts and Public Alerts in Google Search to better track hurricanes. When you launch a web search about particular storms, you might see your location in relation to the oncoming storm, visualizations of its forecasted track, wind severity and arrival time according to NOAA, and instructions for preparing and staying safe, from FEMA and ready.gov.
Hurricane phone apps
•NOAA Radar US: View animated weather radar images and hyperlocal storm patterns. $1.99 for iPhone and iPad.
•Hurricane app by the Red Cross: Stay up to date with NOAA alerts and connect with friends and family. It also has a flashlight, strobe and alarm. There is a second free app with first-aid advice for situations ranging from anaphylactic shock to heart attacks. Go to redcross.org/mobile-apps/hurricane-app. Free for iPhone and Android.
•The Weather Channel: Free for iPhone and Android.
•Dark Sky: Predicts weather events down to the minute using animated visualizations at your exact location. $3.99 for iPhone and iPad.
•Know Your Plan: From the Insurance Information Institute, it helps advance planning with preloaded checklists or those you create your own. Free for iPhone and Android.
•Flashlight makes a flashlight out of the phone. Free for iPhone and Android.
This information was provided by the Miami Herald. Alexandra Zavis and Jenny Jarvie Los Angeles Times (TNS) contributed to this report.