Hurricane Matthew claimed its first victims, officials said, leaving one person dead and another missing in Haiti as it churns through the Caribbean, the most menacing storm in nearly a decade.
Strong winds buffeted the southern coast of the Americas’ most destitute country yesterday, where flimsy homes and buildings leave residents particularly vulnerable to natural disasters.
Flooding is also being reported in some areas of Jamaica as the Category 4 storm creeps closer from the south, news reports said.
Cuba ordered the evacuation of more than 250,000 people from the east of the island.
“No one likes to leave their homes, but the sea is going to rise and that is very dangerous,” said Pedro Gonzalez, a retired chef who had to leave a fishing islet where he lives off the city of Santiago, one of six areas under a hurricane warning.
His sister Ana went with him along with their 100-year-old mother Marina, who uses a wheelchair.
“I would not stay on that cay for all the money in the world,” said Ana, who recalled the horror of living through Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when 11 Cubans died.
The authorities are not forcing residents to leave, however, and many have chosen to stay to prevent looting.
Matthew is expected to hit southwestern Haiti late Monday, packing powerful winds and torrential rain, the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center said.
Cuba and the Bahamas also lie along the likely path of destruction.
Haiti, eastern regions of Cuba and the southeastern Bahamas have been placed under a hurricane warning. In Haiti, the alert level has risen to the maximum level of red.
Monstrous storm swells of up to 3.3 meters (11 feet) were forecast off Cuba and Haiti, the NHC said.
“This is shaping up to be a devastating blow,” said Domenica Davis, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel.
A fisherman drowned Friday in Haiti and another went missing Sunday, both off the southern coast, civil protection officials said.
At 2100 GMT, the eye of the storm had reached 360 kilometers (225 miles) southwest of Port-au-Prince, with lashing top-wind speeds of 225 kilometers per hour, the US hurricane center said.