Hurricane Matthew’s toll: 19 dead in Haiti; widespread damage

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Oct. 5 (UPI) — Hurricane Matthew battered the tiny Caribbean island of Haiti Wednesday before it moved offshore and headed toward Cuba.

The category 4 hurricane arrived on Haiti early Wednesday and left a trail of destruction and killed at least 19 people, officials said.

Damage was so great that the country postponed its presidential election, which was set for Sunday in Port Au Prince. Trees and at least one bridge were toppled, NBC News reported.

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In addition to the structural and human toll, Matthew cut power to thousands of residents on the island.

Washed-out bridges and mudslides have hindered efforts to reach people after the storm arrived 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 Fran├žois Anick Joseph said. “Some lost rooftops and they’ll have to be replaced while others were totally destroyed.”

The United Nations said the storm has created the greatest humanitarian crisis in Haiti since its 2010 earthquake.

The U.S. Agency for International Development pledged an additional $1 million in humanitarian aid on Wednesday.

As Matthew reached Cuba, it caused some similar damage. The U.S. Navy’s base at Guantanamo Bay escaped largely unscathed, the Miami Herald reported.

“Initial damage assessments by installation personnel showed that buildings, roadways and other infrastructure did not sustain significant damage,” the Navy said in a statement. “The beaches will need more extensive repairs and cleanup, and a few sections will be opened once the initial cleanup is completed.”

Preparations and evacuations in the Bahamas were underway Wednesday as it prepares for Matthew’s onslaught.

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 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.

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Several other people also died in the neighboring Dominican Republic, officials said. In the tiny Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, at least one death was reported.

“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.”

The storm weakened to a Category 3 hurricane on Wednesday, though it is expected to restrengthen as it again moves over the warm sea water and picks up steam.

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