HURRICANE Matthew has killed nearly 1,000 people in Haiti and left tens of thousands of people homeless. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere has never completely recovered from a devastating earthquake in 2010.
“We lost cows and all our crops,” said farmer Geffrard Duplessis about Matthew. “Nothing is left. And our homes are destroyed.”
News video shows entire landscapes of metal shanties with their roofs blown off, downed trees and mud from overflowing rivers spilling over onto the ground.
The Haitian town of Jeremie with a population of 30,000 “is completely destroyed,” said Care Haiti director Jean-Michel Vigreux.
The United Nations said nearly 6 million Haitians have been affected by the storm with 350,000 people needing immediate aid.
The International Red Cross has announced an emergency appeal for $6.9 billion in relief aid.
Haitian Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles has announced the creation of a committee comprising Cabinet members to coordinate the distribution of aid provided by donor countries and organisations.
Limited vehicle traffic has been restored to the southern part of Haiti that was cut off when a bridge collapsed Tuesday, enabling more emergency relief workers and supplies to be transported to the isolated region.
Damage and potential casualties in the Bahamas were still unclear as the storm passed near the capital, Nassau, on Thursday and then out over the western end of Grand Bahama Island.
Matthew has now moved northward just off the eastern U.S. coast, causing mass evacuations from Florida to North Carolina. The storm has maximum sustained winds of 165 kilometers per hour and rainfall predicted from 20 to 38 centimeters.
Florida Governor, Rick Scott, has activated 3,500 National Guard troops. Experts say parts of the state could be uninhabitable for weeks.
Weather forecasters said coastal storm surges combined with high tides and destructive waves pose dangers of “life-threatening inundation” through late Saturday afternoon along coastal areas in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
U.S. President Barack Obama has declared states of emergency for all four states.
After meeting Friday with Federal Emergency Management Agency ((FEMA)) administrator Craig Fugate, Obama held a news briefing during which he said, “I just want to emphasise to everybody that this is still a really dangerous hurricane, that the potential for storm surge flooding, loss of life and severe property damage continues to exist.”
One of the areas bearing the brunt of the storm is the northeastern Florida town of Orange Park. Florida resident and former VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins said she is temporarily residing there after heeding mandatory evacuation orders in her hometown of St. Augustine.
“The rain is just so, so hard right now. It’s really, really coming down. Sometimes it looks like it’s raining sideways. There is a lot of debris out in the streets. There are a lot of tall trees directly behind where I am and they have been swaying so much in the wind that it’s really a bit of a concern.”
In Brevard County, Florida, where NASA’s Cape Canaveral is located, Emergency Management Office spokesman David Walker told VOA mandatory evacuation orders were issued for 90,000 people living on barrier islands and in mobile homes but some people ignored them.
“Some of that can be attributed to hurricane complacency, which is a factor we have to contend with in Florida because we haven’t had a major incident remotely close to this, hurricane-wise, since 2004,” he said.
Walker also said one family called for help after the roof of their home “just flew off” and several other residents reported fires of an undetermined cause.
The National Hurricane Center called Matthew the strongest hurricane seen in the region in decades.
Some Florida residents who have lived in the state 50 years or more and through the worst that Mother Nature can create fled their homes, telling reporters Matthew looked like a “bad one.”
Although the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 3 storm as it approached the U.S. mainland, winds gusts of up to 70 miles per hour (113 kph) and heavy downpours were still reported across coastal communities in Florida, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
More than 140,000 Florida households were without power, according to Governor Rick Scott. In West Palm Beach, once lit street lights and houses went dark and Interstate 95 was empty as the storm rolled through the community of 100,000 people.
Hurricane Matthew was carrying extremely dangerous winds of 120 mph (195 kph) after pounding the northwestern part of the Bahamas en route to Florida’s Atlantic coast earlier, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Matthew’s winds had dropped on Thursday night and into Friday morning, downgrading it to a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, where it could either plow inland or tear along the Atlantic coast through Friday night, the Miami-based center said.
Few storms with winds as powerful as Matthew’s have struck Florida, and the NHC warned of “potentially disastrous impacts.”
The U.S. National Weather Service said the storm could be the most powerful to strike northeast Florida in 118 years.
It was too soon to predict where Matthew might do the most damage in the United States, but the NHC’s hurricane warning extended up the Atlantic coast from southern Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina. More than 12 million people in the United States were under hurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel.
The last major hurricane, classified as a storm bearing sustained winds of more than 110 mph (177 kph), to make landfall on U.S. shores was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
Jeff Masters, a veteran hurricane expert, said on his Weather Underground website (www.wunderground.com) that Matthew’s wind threat was especially serious at Cape Canaveral, which juts into the Atlantic off central Florida.
Source: VOA and CNN