Heavy rains from the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew have drenched Jamaica and Haiti, flooding streets and sending many people to emergency shelters as the category 4 storm approached the two countries. Two deaths were reported in Haiti, bringing the total for the storm to at least four.
Matthew had sustained winds of 140mph (220kph) as it moved north, up from 130mph (210kph) earlier in the day. The center was expected to pass just east of Jamaica and near or over the south-western tip of Haiti early Tuesday before heading to eastern Cuba, the US National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
“We are looking at a dangerous hurricane that is heading into the vicinity of western Haiti and eastern Cuba,” said Richard Pasch, a senior hurricane specialist with the center. “People who are impacted by things like flooding and mudslides hopefully would get out and relocate because that’s where we have seen loss of life in the past.”
“It has the potential of being catastrophic,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the Miami-based hurricane center, when asked about Matthew’s expected impact on Haiti.
Many were taking that advice. In Jamaica, more than 700 people packed shelters in the eastern parish of St Thomas and the Salvation Army said there were about 200 people at its shelters in Kingston as it put out a call for mattresses and cots. Many streets flooded throughout the country’s south-east.
Still, many people chose to stick it out. Local government minister Desmond McKenzie said all but four residents of the Port Royal area, near the Kingston airport, refused to board buses and evacuate.
Fisherman Carlos Smith in St Catherine Parish said he realized the storm appeared to be dangerous but he couldn’t abandon his property. “I want to leave anytime now and go to a shelter, but we can’t leave our things because that’s how we hustle and make a living,” he said.
In Haiti, authorities went door to door in the south coast cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie to make sure people were aware of the storm. At least 1,200 people were evacuated to shelters in churches and schools.
“We are continuing to mobilize teams in the south to move people away from dangerous areas,” said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, head of Haiti’s civil protection agency.
In Port-au-Prince, schools were shuttered and residents lined up at gas stations and cleared out the shelves at supermarkets as a light rain fell in the capital.
In the suburb of Tabarre, officials spent Monday urging shantytown residents living next to a muddy river to take shelter at a local school where cots were set up. While some went, many refused in fear their few possessions might be stolen.
“If we lose our things we are not going to get them back!” Toussaint Laine said as police and officials from the mayor’s office urged the jobless man and his family to evacuate.
Some worried the city of roughly a million people would not fare well. “We are not prepared,” unemployed mason Fritz Achelus said as he watched water pool on a downtown street.
“I know my house could easily blow away. All I can do is pray and then pray some more,” Ronlande Francois said by the tarp-walled shack where she lives with her unemployed husband and three children.
At least two fishermen died in rough water churned up by the storm, Jean-Baptiste said. A boat carrying one of the men capsized early Monday off the tiny south-western fishing town of Saint-Jean-du-Sud as he was trying to bring his wooden skiff to shore. The body of the other was recovered a short time later off the nearby town of Aquin after he apparently drowned.
Their deaths brought the total for the storm to at least four. One man died on Friday in Colombia, as well as a 16-year-old in St Vincent and the Grenadines on 28 September when the system passed through the eastern Caribbean.
Forecasters said the storm was expected to dump as much as 40in (100cm) of rain on some isolated areas of Haiti, raising fears of deadly mudslides and floods in the heavily deforested country where many families live in flimsy houses with corrugated metal roofs.
The US Agency for International Development said on Monday it was providing a combined $400,000 in aid to Haiti and Jamaica as the Caribbean nations prepare for Hurricane Matthew.
The agency said in a statement it had pre-positioned relief supplies and was preparing to ship in additional supplies to the central Caribbean.
Matthew is one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent history and briefly reached the top classification, category 5, becoming the strongest hurricane in the region since Felix in 2007. The hurricane center said the storm appeared to be on track to pass east of Florida through the Bahamas, but it was too soon to predict with certainty whether it would threaten any spot on the US east coast.
“Although our track is to the east of Florida, interests there should remain vigilant and we can’t rule out the possibility of impacts,” Pasch said.