The fiercest Caribbean storm in almost a decade has ripped into Haiti’s southwestern peninsula 230km/h winds and storm surges, killing at least one person and damaging homes.
The eye of the violent and slow-moving Category 4 storm was hovering over the western tip of Haiti on Tuesday, the US National Hurricane Center said, pounding coastal villages with strong gusts.
One man died as the storm crashed through his home in the beach town of Port Salut, Haiti’s civil protection service said. He had been too sick to leave for a shelter, officials said.
One fisherman was killed in heavy seas over the weekend as the storm approached, and another was missing.
Overnight, Haitians living in vulnerable coastal shacks on the Tiburon Peninsula frantically sought shelter as Matthew closed in, bringing heavy rain and gusts and driving the ocean into seaside towns.
Several districts in southern Haiti were flooded, with crops inundated with ocean and rain water.
Haitian senator, Nenel Cassy, told the Miami Herald the situation in the Nippes region was truly catastrophic.
About a metre of rain is forecast to fall over hills that are largely deforested and so more prone to flash floods and mudslides, threatening villages as well as shanty towns in the capital Port-au-Prince, where heavy rain fell overnight.
More than 9000 people were huddled in shelters across Haiti, authorities said.
Life-threatening flash floods and mudslides were likely in southern and northwestern Haiti, the hurricane centre said. It expected Matthew to remain a powerful hurricane through at least Wednesday night.
Hurricane Matthew making landfall with Haiti 😳 pic.twitter.com/rzYvpvnOCN
— TmarTn (@TmarTn) October 4, 2016
The outer bands of the storm had already reached the area late on Monday, flooding dozens of houses in Les Anglais when the ocean rose, the mayor said.
In the town of Les Cayes on the southern coast, the wind bent trees and the power went out.
People in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, are often reluctant to leave home in the face of storms, fearing their few belongings will be stolen.
Authorities moved around 1000 inmates from at least four prisons to safer locations outside the storm’s path, officials said.
Aid agencies fear for the safety of 60,000 pregnant women in the south of the region, who are likely to be left with reduced access to medical care. Cholera is also a concern.
The strongest Caribbean storm since Hurricane Felix in 2009 threatens to linger long enough for its winds and rain to cause great damage in Haiti, where it will spend much of the day before hitting Cuba and the Bahamas later on Tuesday.
It could reach Florida by Thursday as a major hurricane, although weaker than at present, the hurricane centre said.
Cameras outside the space station captured dramatic views of major Hurricane Matthew as the orbital complex flew 250 miles above (speed x4). pic.twitter.com/nfAQuw2OQC
— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) October 3, 2016
Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Florida on Monday, designating resources for evacuations and shelters and putting the National Guard on standby.
In Cuba authorities have spent days organising teams of volunteers to move residents to safety and secure property.
The storm is expected to make a direct hit later on Tuesday in the province of Guantanamo, which is home to the disputed US Naval base and military prison and also to a small Cuban city.
The US Navy ordered the evacuation of 700 spouses and children of service personnel as the storm approached.