The leading edge of dangerous Hurricane Matthew has drenched Haiti, flooding streets and sending people scrambling to emergency shelters as the Category 4 storm threatened to batter the Caribbean’s poorest nation.
A slightly strengthened Matthew had sustained winds of 145mph late on Monday, up from 140mph earlier in the day. Its centre was expected to pass near or over the south-western tip of impoverished Haiti on Tuesday, then head for another landfall in eastern Cuba, the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said.
In the Port-au-Prince suburb of Tabarre, officials spent Monday urging shanty town residents living next to a muddy river to take shelter at a school where cots were set up. While some went, many refused in fear their few possessions might be stolen.
Haiti’s civil protection agency reported the death of a fisherman in rough water churned up by the storm., and said another fisherman was missing.
The confirmed death in Haiti brought the total for the storm to at least three. One man died on Friday in Colombia and a 16-year-old was killed in St Vincent, and the Grenadines on September 28 when the system passed through the eastern Caribbean.
Authorities went door to door in Haiti’s south coast cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie to make sure people were aware of the storm. At least 1,200 people were moved to shelters in churches and schools.
Forecasters said the storm could dump as much as 40in of rain on some isolated areas of Haiti, raising fears of deadly mudslides and floods in the heavily deforested country.
Matthew briefly reached the top classification, Category 5, becoming the strongest hurricane in the region since Felix in 2007.
The US hurricane centre said the storm appeared to be on track to pass the east of Florida through the Bahamas, but it was too soon to predict with certainty whether it would threaten the US east coast.
Cuba’s government declared a hurricane alert for six eastern provinces and removed traffic lights from poles in the city of Santiago to keep them from falling due to heavy wind.
Matthew’s centre was expected to make landfall in Cuba about 50 miles east of the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, where authorities evacuated about 700 spouses and children of service members on military transport planes to Florida.
The US installation has a population of about 5,500, including 61 men held at the detention centre for terror suspects.