Hurricane Matthew 2016 claimed its first victims, officials said Monday, leaving one person dead and another missing in Haiti as it churns through the Caribbean, the most menacing storm in nearly a decade.
Strong winds buffeted the southern coast of the Americas’ most destitute country, where flimsy homes and buildings leave residents particularly vulnerable to natural disasters.
Flooding is also being reported in some areas of Jamaica as the Category 4 storm creeps closer from the south, AFP reported.
Cuba ordered the evacuation of more than 250,000 people from the east of the island.
“No one likes to leave their homes, but the sea is going to rise and that is very dangerous,” said Pedro Gonzalez, a retired chef who had to leave a fishing islet where he lives off the city of Santiago, one of six areas under a hurricane warning.
His sister Ana went with him along with their 100-year-old mother Marina, who uses a wheelchair.
“I would not stay on that cay for all the money in the world,” said Ana, who recalled the horror of living through Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when 11 Cubans died.
The authorities are not forcing residents to leave, however, and many have chosen to stay to prevent looting.
Matthew is expected to hit southwestern Haiti late Monday, packing powerful winds and torrential rain, the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center said.
Cuba and the Bahamas also lie along the likely path of destruction.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its 5 p.m. advisory Monday:
“While there remains significant uncertainty in the track of Matthew in the long range, the threat to Florida and the southeastern U.S. coast has increased.”
Hurricane warnings are in effect for Haiti, eastern Cuba, the southeastern Bahamas (including the Inaguas, Mayaguana, Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay and Ragged Island) and the central Bahamas (including Long Island, Exuma, Rum Cay, San Salvador and Cat Island).
Hurricane watches continue for the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Cuban province of Camaguey and the northwestern Bahamas, including the Abacos, Andros Island, Berry Islands, Bimini, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island and New Providence.
Hurricane Matthew is a category 4 hurricane.
Image credit: AFP