Hurricane Matthew lashed Haiti's southwestern coast Tuesday with raging winds and storm surge that threatened to devastate the impoverished Caribbean nation's towns and villages.
The region's strongest storm in almost a decade made landfall on Haiti's Tiburon Peninsula as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 145 mph. Heavy rain was falling across the country.
"We’re expecting a lot of houses to go down because of the poor housing infrastructure in a lot of the rural areas where we work," said John Hasse, an aid worker in Haiti with the humanitarian organization World Vision. "With wind this strong, it will be extremely damaging and dangerous and homes for the average person are made of mud and sticks or poorly constructed cinderblocks.”Hasse, an aid worker in Haiti with the humanitarian organization World Vision. "With wind this strong, it will be extremely damaging and dangerous and homes for the average person are made of mud and sticks or poorly constructed cinderblocks.”
Hasse said that in the capital Port-au-Prince "people are starting to realize that this could be big and they have been stocking up."
Tiburon Mayor Remiza Denize told Reuters that people who had been reluctant to leave their homes fled when large waves began crashing into the town.
"Everyone is trying to find a safe place to protect themselves, the situation is very difficult," Denize said.
Heavy wind and rain combined with massive waves to pound the tourist town of Port Salut.
“The winds are making so many bad noises. We’re just doing our best to stay calm,” Jenniflore Desrosiers, taking refuge with her family in her fragile cinderblock home, told the Associated Press.
National Hurricane Center in Miami then expects the storm to continue on for another landfall — expected in the lightly populated eastern end of Cuba.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is already struggling to regain its footing almost seven years after an earthquake and ensuing cholera epidemic ravaged the nation. It is particularly vulnerable to vicious weather storms because it is one of the most deforested countries in the world: Less than 2% of the land still has trees. The country also has relatively steep terrain as well, which can make it prone to landslides and mudslides.
Haiti’s civil protection agency has reported just one death so far, a fisherman who drowned in rough water churned up by the storm. That raised Matthew’s death toll to at least three. One man died in Colombia and a teen was killed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as the storm moved through the Caribbean.
But some shantytown residents have been reluctant to evacuate because they fear their possessions may be stolen. "If we lose our things we are not going to get them back!” Toussaint Laine, an unemployed man who lives with his family in a shack in Tabarre, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, told the Associated Press.
On Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti suffered one of its worst natural disasters when a magnitude-7.0 earthquake ripped through Port-au-Prince. Houses collapsed, many sinking down mountain slopes. Roads crumbled, people were trapped under concrete for days; 230,000 people died.
The earthquake caused significant damage in Port-au-Prince, and government buildings such as the Presidential Palace and the National Assembly building were damaged or destroyed. Infrastructure was gutted, and at least 1 million people were forced to live in tent cities. An epidemic of cholera, an infectious and often fatal bacterial disease of the small intestine that is often contracted from infected water supplies. broke out about 10 months after the earthquake, killing thousands more.
Since the earthquake, the deadliest storm system in Haiti was Hurricane Sandy in 2012, according to Weather Underground. While Sandy did not make a direct hit on the island, it resulted in 75 deaths, $250 million in damage and one of its worst fallouts: a resurgence of cholera that infected about 5,000 people.
Before the 2010 earthquake, the most vicious hurricane season in Haiti was 2008 when four storms struck: Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike. Nearly 800 people were killed; 22,000 homes were destroyed; 70% of the country's crops were lost, according to reliefweb.org.
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