Matthew leaves behind destruction in Haiti

Published: Updated:

PETIT-GOAVE, Haiti (AP) – Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti’s southwestern tip with howling, 145 mph winds Tuesday, tearing off roofs in the poor and largely rural area, uprooting trees and leaving rivers bloated and choked with debris. At least nine deaths were blamed on the storm during its week-long march across the Caribbean.

The storm – at one point the most powerful hurricane in the region in nearly a decade – unloaded heavy rain as it swirled on toward Cuba and the Bahamas. Forecasters said it could hit Florida toward the end of the week and push its way up the East Coast over the weekend.

The dangerous Category 4 storm blew ashore around dawn in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, hitting a corner of Haiti where many people live in shacks of wood or concrete blocks.

Damage appeared to be widespread, but because of poor communications, blocked roads and washed-out bridges, the full extent was not immediately clear. Nor was the number of deaths.

The country’s Civil Protection Agency said many homes were damaged or destroyed. And people had to wade through flooded streets to rescue their belongings and find higher ground.

Southwest Florida resident Jessica Ciccarello, who’s in the country working with the Hope for Haiti charitable foundation, told WINK News that people weren’t prepared for a disaster of this magnitude.

“A lot of people are saying they had no idea it was going to be this bad,” she said.

She described wind that sounded like a freight train and slammed her door back and forth. Main roads flooded, stranding Ciccarello and many others.

“The need is going to be huge,” she said. “People are going to need everything right now, especially food.”

Stephen Schorering, a Punta Gorda doctor who’s been providing medical aid to children in Haiti since the 1990s, is fearing for the worst.

“There’s no rescue centers, no place for them to run to, no place for them to hide,” Schorering said.

Many in the country are without access to modern-day communication and were unaware the storm was coming, according to Schorering.

“It’s the worst hurricane that I’ve seen during my life,” said Fidele Nicolas, a civil protection official in Nippes, just east of where Matthew came ashore. “It destroyed schools, roads, other structures.”

At least three deaths were blamed on the storm in Haiti, including one person whose home was crushed by a tree in Port Salut and a 26-year-old man who drowned trying to rescue a child who had fallen into a rushing river, authorities said. The child was saved.

Four deaths were recorded in the neighboring Dominican Republic and one each in Colombia and in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Schorering, through the World Harvest Missions organization, is collecting items for Haiti at three locations in Charlotte County:

  • Fawcett H2U Center, 3280 Tamiami Trail, No. 493, Port Charlotte (9 a.m to 5 p.m. weekdays)
  • Bayfront Health Port Charlotte main lobby, 2500 Harbor Blvd., Port Charlotte (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
  • Bayfront Health Punta Gorda main lobby, 809 E. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

The storm left the peninsula that runs along the southern coast of Haiti cut off from the rest of the country. Many streets were flooded or blocked by landslides and fallen trees. Local radio reported that the water was shoulder high in parts of the city of Les Cayes.

Milriste Nelson, a 65-year-old farmer in the town of Leogane, said his neighbors fled when the wind ripped the corrugated metal roof from their home. His own small yard was strewn with the fruit he depends on for his livelihood.

“All the banana trees, all the mangos, everything is gone,” Nelson said as he boiled breadfruit over a charcoal fire in the gray morning light. “This country is going to fall deeper into misery.”

Haitian authorities had tried to evacuate people from the most vulnerable areas ahead of the storm, but many were reluctant to leave their homes. Some sought shelter only after the worst was already upon them, making their way through debris-strewn streets amid pounding rain.

“Many people are now asking for help, but it’s too late because there is no way to go evacuate them,” said Fonie Pierre, director of Catholic Relief Services for the Les Cayes area, who was huddled in her office with about 20 people.

Matthew was expected to bring 15 to 25 inches of rain, and up to 40 inches (100 centimeters) in isolated places, along with up to 10 feet (3 meters) of storm surge and battering waves.

“They are getting everything a major hurricane can throw at them,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The center of the storm was projected to pass about 50 miles northeast of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Workers in Cuba removed traffic lights from poles in the city of Santiago to keep them from getting blown away.

As dawn broke, people in the Haitian tourist town of Port Salut described howling winds and big waves slamming the beaches and washing over the coastal road.

“The winds are making so many bad noises. We’re just doing our best to stay calm,” said Jenniflore Desrosiers as she huddled with her family in her fragile cinderblock home, which had sprung numerous leaks from the rain.

The few places that were on the electrical grid had apparently lost power, and cellphone service was spotty.

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