PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Oct. 5 (UPI) — At least 11 deaths have been blamed on Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean as emergency teams in Haiti struggle to reach affected areas Wednesday, officials said.
Washed-out bridges and mudslides have hindered efforts to reach people in western Haiti after the hurricane reached the island nation with winds of 145 mph. The full extent of Matthew’s damage was unclear as communications to some of Haiti’s regions have been severed, The Washington Post reported.
“What we know is that many, many houses have been damaged,” Haitian Interior Minister François Anick Joseph said. “Some lost rooftops and they’ll have to be replaced while others were totally destroyed.”
The U.S. Navy sent three ships, including an aircraft carrier and a hospital ship, to Haiti for relief efforts. The U.S. Department of State has deployed emergency response teams to Haiti, along with items already in the island country such as shelter kits and sanitation supplies. The Venezuelan government mobilized an airlift of humanitarian supplies, while the British-based Oxfam focused efforts on sanitation and clean water to prevent cholera outbreaks.
The Category 4 storm is one of the strongest hurricanes to rip through the region in years, while Florida and North Carolina have declared emergencies ahead of the storm’s arrival in the United States later this week.
Officials said five have died in Haiti and four in the neighboring Dominican Republic. In the tiny Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines one death has been reported and another as far south as Colombia.
“We’ve already seen deaths,” interim Haitian President Jocelerme Privert told reporters. “People who were out at sea. There are people who are missing. They are people who didn’t respect the alerts. They’ve lost their lives.”
As winds and heavy rain lashed the island nation, fallen trees knocked down power and communication lines — leaving areas cut off.
“The river has overflowed all around us,” church pastor Louis St. Germain said. “It’s terrible … a total disaster.”
The United Nations called Hurricane Matthew the worst natural disaster to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.
The storm has weakened to a Category 3 hurricane, though it is expected to restrengthen as it continues a north-northwest trajectory through the Bahamas and near the south Florida coast.