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Hurricane Matthew; Haiti death toll reaches 140

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Reuters) – Hurricane Matthew has killed at least 140 people, almost all of them in hard-hit Haiti, where authorities and rescue workers were still struggling to reach remote areas on the southwestern peninsula as the storm powered its way towards Florida.

 

Haiti’s civil protection service put the toll in the impoverished Caribbean nation at 108 dead, with many of them killed by falling trees, flying debris and swollen rivers. The Interior Ministry, a mayor and other local officials confirmed 28 other deaths to Reuters across Haiti.

 

Most of the fatalities were in towns and fishing villages around the Tiburon peninsula, one of Haiti’s most picturesque regions. The storm passed directly through the peninsula, driving the sea inland and flattening homes with winds of up to 145 mph (230 kph) and torrential rain on Monday and Tuesday.

 

In the coastal town of Roche-a-Bateau in Sud Department, 24 died. In Grand Anse Department, 38 more lost their lives.

 

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Louis Paul Raphael, a central government representative in Roche-a-Bateau.

 

Along with the human devastation, the storm destroyed and killed livestock.

 

In one public hospital in Les Cayes, a port town on the Tiburon peninsula, most doctors had not shown up to work since they took shelter as the storm hit. Food and water was scarce in shelters.

 

The devastation in Haiti prompted authorities to postpone a presidential election scheduled for Sunday.

 

Poverty, weak government and precarious living conditions for many of its citizens make Haiti particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. In 2010, a magnitude 7 earthquake wrecked the capital Port-au-Prince, killing upwards of 200,000 people.

 

In the earthquake’s wake, U.N. peacekeepers inadvertently introduced cholera to the country, killing at least 9,000 and infecting hundreds of thousands more.

 

The Pan American Health Organization said on Thursday it was preparing for a possible cholera upsurge in Haiti after the hurricane because the flooding was likely to contaminate water supplies.

 

Rescue workers have not reached Roche-a-Bateau or the villages closer to the storm’s path, and the information is scarce about the damage there. To the south in Les Cayes, the winds tore roofs off almost every home.

 

At the town’s tiny airport, windows were blown out and the terminal roof was mostly missing although the landing strip was not heavily damaged.

 

“The runway is working. In the hours and days to come we can receive humanitarian flights,” said Sergot Tilis, the information officer and runway agent for the airport.

 

Matthew is the strongest hurricane in the Caribbean since Felix in 2007 and is now over the Bahamas as a Category 4 cyclone, the second strongest on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. It is due to reach Florida late on Thursday, and authorities urged some 1.5 million there people to evacuate.

 

Four people were killed over the weekend in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. (Reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva; Writing by Simon Gardner and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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