More than 30 houses were washed away by the storm surge caused by Hurricane Matthew in the northeastern Cuban seaside town of Baracoa, the site where Christopher Columbus first landed in the Americas, a resident in the town said.
[Breaking news update at 10:57 a.m. ET]
Five people have died in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew thrashed the country, Haiti’s Civil Protection Service said.
The fatalities included a man who died when his house collapsed and two others who were killed by falling trees.
The agency said at least 1,580 homes have been flooded across Haiti, and roughly 2,700 families have been affected by Matthew.
[Previous story, published at 10:05 a.m. ET]
Hurricane Matthew took aim at the Bahamas Wednesday after leaving behind a trail of death and destruction in Haiti.
At least seven people died from Matthew’s wrath in three Caribbean countries, official said.
The destruction was especially brutal in southern Haiti, where sustained winds of 125 mph (200 kilometers per hour) pummeled the impoverished nation still recovering from the catastrophic 2010 earthquake.
Mourad Wahba, the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Haiti, described Matthew as the “largest humanitarian event” since the earthquake.
On Wednesday morning, Matthew was about 80 miles west of the Bahamas. CNN meteorologists expect storm surges there as high as 15 feet, along with intense rains and damaging winds.
Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie warned that Matthew had the potential to be “violently unpredictable.”
“The storm has strengthened and, from what we have seen in Haiti and elsewhere, is bringing dangerously strong winds and extremely heavy rains,” Christie said.
The Bahamas could get hit with up to 15 inches of rain and “life-threatening” surf conditions, the National Hurricane Center said.
“(We’ve made) sure we got water, we got non-perishable foods,” Bahamas resident Bruce Darville said as he prepared for Matthew’s arrival.
“We’ve got a generator, so we make sure that’s all fueled up, make sure you’re vehicle’s fueled up. And we leave the rest to the good master.”
‘A total disaster’
Matthew made landfall Tuesday morning as a Category 4 hurricane near Les Anglais, Haiti. Streets flooded in the capital of Port-au-Prince while heavy rains pelted the town of Les Cayes, Mayor Jean Gabriel Fortuné said.
“We’ve already seen deaths, people who were out at sea,” Interim Haitian President Jocelerme Privert said. “There are people who are missing. They are people who didn’t respect the alerts.”
While the final death toll remains uncertain, Haitian church pastor Louis St. Germain said heavy rain had caused waterways to swell. He said the storm sheared a wall off his house and tore roofs off many buildings in the area.
“The river has overflowed all around us,” St. Germain said. “It’s terrible … a total disaster.”
Forecasters predicted parts of Haiti could get a total of 40 inches of rain — a disastrous amount for a nation still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.
“Much of the population is displaced and communication systems are down,” Wahba said. “We’ve received reports of destroyed houses and overflowing hospitals with shortages of buckets and fresh water. The hospital in Les Cayes has had its roof blown off by the force of winds.”
More than 300,000 people are now in shelters across the country, the United Nations said.
Once the storm passes, residents could face risks from another threat — standing water. Haiti is still recovering from a post-quake cholera outbreak that killed 10,000 people.
“Water is going to be a major issue,” said Jean Claude Fignole, Oxfam’s influence program director in Haiti. “Our priority is to get clean water and hygiene items to families as fast as possible to avoid a spike in cases of cholera. In the weeks and months to come, hunger is likely to emerge as big concern. Some crops in the South of the country have been totally destroyed.”
Death toll rising
At least seven people have died in relation to the slow-moving hurricane within the past week, officials in three countries said.
Four people died in the Dominican Republic, the government said. Authorities there did not provide additional details about how they died.
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a teenage boy died in a landslide as he was cleaning a drain behind his house, the National Emergency Management Office said. He died Wednesday after storms from Matthew passed.
And in Haiti, a fisherman died Sunday and a second fisherman is presumed dead, Interior Ministry spokesman Guillaume Albert Moleon said. The second fisherman’s body has not been recovered.
US braces for impact
Officials in the US have taken steps to prepare for the storm’s arrival in the coming days. Governors in four southern states have declared states of emergency.
Officials in some areas, including in Brevard County, Florida, have ordered evacuations for barrier islands even with Matthew’s arrival still days away.
“We have to be prepared for a major hurricane,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “We have to prepare for a direct hit.”