Hurricane Matthew pounded the Bahamas on Thursday after leaving behind a humanitarian crisis in Haiti.
At least 269 people have been killed so far in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said, with the death toll expected to rise.
Haiti, still recovering from the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, was hit the hardest with more than 264 people reported dead as of Thursday evening.
As the death toll rises and crucial infrastructure crumbles, thousands have been displaced. Mourad Wahba, the UN secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Haiti, described Matthew as the “largest humanitarian event” since the earthquake.
Southern Haiti was hit especially hard, where winds of 125 mph (200 kph) destroyed homes, flooded villages and cut off the island from the rest of the country.
National Route 2, which connects Port-au-Prince with Haiti’s southern peninsula, broke apart when the bridge collapsed, the country’s civil protection agency said. In the wake of the storm, the Electoral Commission postponed the country’s presidential election, which had been scheduled for Sunday. A new date has not been set.
Tim Callaghan, assistance response team leader for the US Agency for International Development in Haiti, told CNN that much of the damage in Haiti’s hardest hit areas — the southwestern cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie — appeared to be structural, and not the result of heavy rainfall.
“The urgent need we’re focusing on right now is food, safe drinking water and … things like plastic sheeting, hygiene kits and so forth,” he said.
“We’re in the most critical phase to support people.”
Dominique Fevry-Gilliand, a spokeswoman for Oxfam Canada, said up to 80% of homes in the most affected areas were destroyed. There was also extensive damage to crops along swaths of southern Haiti.
“Most likely, in the next couple of weeks and months, one of the things they will have to deal with in that region is hunger,” she said.
On the outer Bahamian island of Long Island, residents began to feel Matthew’s presence long before the eye of the storm arrived.
CNN meteorologists expect storm surges in the Bahamas as high as 15 feet, along with intense rains and damaging winds.
Prime Minister Perry Christie warned that Matthew had the potential to be “violently unpredictable.”
The hurricane center had predicted the Bahamas would get hit with up to 15 inches of rain and “life-threatening” surf conditions.
Resident Bruce Darville said he prepared for Matthew’s arrival by collecting water, nonperishable foods and other essentials.
“We’ve got a generator, so we make sure that’s all fueled up, make sure your vehicle’s fueled up. And we leave the rest to the good master.”
The hurricane caused flooding in southern and eastern coastal communities and structural damage to a number of resorts in Nassau, officials said.
‘A total disaster’
In Haiti, where Matthew made landfall Tuesday as a Category 4 hurricane, the storm has passed but the aftermath has just begun, prompting an influx of international aid.
At least 1,580 homes have been flooded, and about 3,215 families have been affected by Matthew, the country’s Civil Protection Agency said.
More than 300,000 people are in shelters across the country, the United Nations said.
Haitian pastor Louis St. Germain 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 had 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.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development is sending $1 million in humanitarian assistance to Haiti following the deployment of a Disaster Assistance Response Team the previous day. USAID workers are set to receive help from a joint task force lending military helicopters to carry personnel and supplies for disaster relief operations.
Residents could face risks from another threat: standing water. Haiti is still recovering from a post-quake cholera outbreak that killed 10,000 people.
Dozens of houses washed away
More than 30 houses were washed away by Hurricane Matthew in Cuba’s northeastern seaside town of Baracoa, the site where Christopher Columbus first landed in the Americas, a resident in the town said.
No fatalities were reported, as the seafront area of the town had been evacuated ahead of Matthew’s arrival.
Elsewhere in the region, hundreds of people lost the roofs on their houses due to the storm, Cuban state media reported.
US braces for impact
Officials in the United States have taken steps to prepare for the storm’s arrival. Governors in four Southern states have declared states of emergency.
“I cannot emphasize enough that everyone in our state must prepare now for a direct hit,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “Having a plan in place could mean the difference between life and death.”