At least seven dead as fiercest Caribbean storm in a decade hits Cuba after slamming Haiti on its way toward the US.
Hurricane Matthew has lashed eastern Cuba after the deadly storm ploughed through Haiti and the Dominican Republic, triggering mass floods and leaving at least seven dead, a US-based monitor said Tuesday.
"Northern eyewall of extremely dangerous Hurricane Matthew already pounding the eastern tip of Cuba," read the latest bulletin from the National Hurricane Center issued at 2100 GMT.
The Category 4 storm, the strongest in the Caribbean in nearly a decade, cut across the southwestern tip of Haiti earlier on Tuesday, uprooting trees and tearing roofs from homes in a largely rural corner of the impoverished country.
At least one fisherman reportedly drowned off the Haitian coast as the storm closed in, and four deaths were recorded in the neighbouring Dominican Republic, bringing the hurricane’s death toll in the Caribbean to at least seven.
Matthew inflicted major damage across Haiti, though the extent was not immediately clear, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of the country’s Civil Protection Agency.
"It’s much too early to know how bad things are, but we do know there are a lot of houses that have been destroyed or damaged in the south," Jean-Baptiste said.
Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Haitian-Dominican Republic border, said the situation was very serious especially in the southern part of Haiti.
"The hurricane has wrecked homes and hit transport and communication in the western hemisphere’s poorest country, which is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake.
"A crucial bridge connecting the southern part of the country to the capital Port Au-Prince has collapsed," Bo said, adding that it is likely to hamper aid delivery to the affected areas.
Many streets were flooded or blocked with fallen trees throughout the southwestern peninsula. Rivers surged with muddy water as heavy rain fell. Local radio reported that the water was shoulder-high in parts of Les Cayes, close to where the storm hit shore.
Haitian authorities had tried to evacuate people from the most vulnerable areas ahead of the storm, but many were reluctant to leave their homes. Some sought shelter only after the worst was already upon them, making their way through debris-strewn streets amid pounding rain.
"Many people are now asking for help, but it’s too late because there is no way to evacuate them," said Fonie Pierre, director of Catholic Relief Services for the Les Cayes area, who was huddled in her office with about 20 people.
The UN dubbed the Category Four hurricane the worst humanitarian crisis to hit Haiti since the devastating 2010 earthquake which killed more than 200,000 people.
"Haiti is facing the largest humanitarian event witnessed since the earthquake six years ago," Mourad Wahba, the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Haiti, said.
Late on Tuesday, the storm moved along the Windward Passage between Haiti and Jamaica, where it dumped heavy rain that caused flooding.
The centre of the storm is projected to pass about 80km northeast of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Forecasters say Matthew could hit the US state of Florida toward the end of the week before pushing its way up the east coast over the weekend.
Cuba’s government declared a hurricane alert for six eastern provinces, and workers removed traffic lights from poles in the city of Santiago to keep them from falling.
In the US, Florida Governor Rick Scott urged residents along the state’s Atlantic coast to prepare for the possibility of a direct hit, and the Red Cross put out a call for volunteers in South Carolina.