Hurricane Matthew, the Caribbean’s worst storm in nearly a decade, barrelled towards the Bahamas on Wednesday after killing nine people and pummelling Haiti and Cuba.
Far to the north, the first evacuations were ordered in the US as coastal residents prepared to escape the approaching monster storm, expected off the East Coast later this week.
In Haiti, severe flooding and devastating winds caused untold damage to the Americas’ poorest nation, where officials were still struggling to communicate with the country’s hard-hit south, where telecommunications had been disrupted.
The collapse of a bridge cut off the only road linking Port-au-Prince to the peninsula that makes up southern Haiti, making matters worse.
The storm’s overall death toll stands at nine - five in Haiti and four in the Dominican Republic - but was certain to rise as Matthew bruised its way north.
A partial assessment of the damage in Haiti, which excluded the department of Grande Anse, which was in the direct eye of the storm, indicated that 14,500 people had been displaced and 1,855 homes flooded. Those numbers were expected to increase dramatically once communication is reestablished with the area.
One person has been reported missing and around 10 injured so far in Haiti, officials said.
Next in line, Cuba was hit late yesterday afternoon on its eastern tip.
The storm’s eye made landfall around 0000 GMT but its center has already moved northeast of the island, heading north at 13 kilometres per hour, the US National Hurricane Center said.
Americans meanwhile girded for a taste of nature’s fury.
Florida and South Carolina as well as parts of North Carolina and Georgia have declared states of emergency. South Carolina said it would start evacuating 1.1 million people from its coast today and try to get them at least 160 kilometres inland.
“It’s not going to be a fast evacuation. It could take up to several hours,” South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said. “If you can leave early, do that.”
Matthew made landfall in Haiti shortly after daybreak yesterday as an “extremely dangerous” Category Four storm - the maximum is five - near the southwestern town of Les Anglais, packing top winds of around 230 kilometres per hour, the NHC said.
It marked the first time in 52 years that a Category Four storm made landfall in Haiti.