PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CBSNewYork/AP) — Heavy rains from the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew drenched Jamaica and Haiti on Monday, flooding streets and sending many people to emergency shelters as the Category 4 storm approached the two countries. Two deaths were reported in Haiti, bringing the total for the storm to at least four.
As of 11 p.m., Matthew had sustained winds of 145 mph, up from 130 mph later in the day, with pressure at 934 mb, and a movement of 7 mph to the north. The hurricane was 100 miles south of Tiburon, Haiti at the western tip of the country.
“This is going to be brutal,” CBS2’s Lonnie Quinn said. “There is no missing Haiti and Cuba.”
While Matthew has a small hurricane field, the storm has a tropical storm field nearly 100 miles wide and is moving slow – making for a prolonged storm surge. Rainfall could top out at 20 to 40 inches, and dangerous mudslides are expected in Haiti.
Matthew was expected to hit the eastern tip of Cuba on Tuesday, and the Bahamas on Wednesday night. The east coast of Florida was expected to be vulnerable late Friday, and current models say Matthew could make landfall over the outer banks of North Carolina this weekend.
“We are looking at a dangerous hurricane that is heading into the vicinity of western Haiti and eastern Cuba,” said Richard Pasch, a senior hurricane specialist with the center. “People who are impacted by things like flooding and mudslides hopefully would get out and relocate because that’s where we have seen loss of life in the past.”
Many were taking that advice. In Jamaica, more than 700 people packed shelters in the eastern parish of St. Thomas and the Salvation Army said there were about 200 people at its shelters in Kingston as it put out a call for mattresses and cots.
Still, many people chose to stick it out. Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said all but four residents of the Port Royal area near the Kingston airport refused to board buses and evacuate.
Major Basil Jarrett of the Jamaica Defence Force says the army is unable to return to Pedro Cays off the southwest coast for people who refused to evacuate Saturday. About 30 people live there. “We pleaded with them but they refused so we left some fuel with them,” he said. “At this point we don’t have the capabilities to return until after the hurricane.”
Fisherman Carlos Smith in St. Catherine Parish said he realized the storm appeared to be dangerous but he couldn’t abandon his property. “I want to leave anytime now and go to a shelter, but we can’t leave our things because that’s how we hustle and make a living,” he said.
In Haiti, authorities went door to door in the south coast cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie to make sure people were aware of the storm. At least 1,200 people were evacuated to shelters in churches and schools.
“We are continuing to mobilize teams in the south to move people away from dangerous areas,” said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, head of Haiti’s civil protection agency.
In Port-au-Prince, schools were shuttered and residents lined up at gas stations and cleared out the shelves at supermarkets as a light rain fell in the capital. Some worried the city of roughly a million people would not fare well. “We are not prepared,” unemployed mason Fritz Achelus said as he watched water pool on a downtown street.
At least two fishermen died in rough water churned up by the storm, Jean-Baptiste said. A boat carrying one of the men capsized early Monday off the tiny southwestern fishing town of Saint Jean du Sud as he was trying to bring his wooden skiff to shore. The body of the other was recovered a short time later off the nearby town of Aquin after he apparently drowned.
Their deaths brought the total for the storm to at least four. One man died Friday in Colombia and a 16-year-old in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 28 when the system passed through the eastern Caribbean.
Forecasters said the storm was expected to dump as much as 40 inches of rain on some isolated areas of Haiti, raising fears of deadly mudslides and floods in the heavily deforested country where many families live in flimsy houses with corrugated metal roofs.
CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reports that families in the Tri-State Area are concerned as to what might happen to their families in the Caribbean.
“I was up until 3 a.m. listening to the radio,” said Andrew Morris, who runs Caribbean Marketplace in West Hempstead.
Morris is already collecting for victims in their native islands.
“So if it’s a school, a house, or hotel, we will deliver the groceries,” Morris explained. “That is called bread and butter express.”
As video comes in, concerns grow about widespread destruction in rural areas.
“This is a real tragedy for farmers in Jamaica,” said Neil Curtis of Farm Up Jamaica.
Curtis said farmers are being advised to take farm animals to higher ground and brace tall crops like bananas and plantains.
“Jamaicans don’t have subsidies to restart a farm. To do that is like starting from zero,” Curtis said.
The Carolinas are also bracing for Matthew.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for 66 counties in the central and eastern parts of the state because the hurricane is on a course that would take it along the East Coast.
McCrory told a news conference on Monday that the declaration will immediately help farmers clear their fields of crops already affected by heavy rain over the last two weeks. He said he doesn’t want other crops ruined, so restrictions on truck weights and hours of service are lifted under the emergency declaration to allow farmers to take their harvest to market.
The governor said he didn’t want farmers to wait until Thursday to begin work if the storm is close to North Carolina.
And in South Carolina, Hilton Head Island announced that work is being suspended on a $21 million dollar project to dredge sand from the ocean and rebuild the beach on the resort island on the state’s southern tip. A dredge is being moved to safe harbor and more than 2 miles of pipe in place along the beach will be disassembled and stowed until the storm passes by.
Those preparations are expected to be complete by Wednesday. It’s the third time this year work on the project has been suspended because of bad weather.
Farther north, Charleston Southern University says it’s moving its home football game against Albany State to Thursday night in the Charleston area. The game had been set for Saturday at midday. That’s when the National Hurricane Center projects that Matthew will be offshore of South Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane.
Matthew is one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent history and briefly reached the top classification, Category 5, becoming the strongest hurricane in the region since Felix in 2007. The hurricane center said the storm appeared to be on track to pass east of Florida through the Bahamas, but it was too soon to predict with certainty whether it would threaten any spot on the U.S. East Coast.
“Although our track is to the east of Florida, interests there should remain vigilant and we can’t rule out the possibility of impacts,” Pasch said.
As of 2 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 250 miles southwest of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and 195 miles southeast of Kingston. It was moving north at 6 mph.
A hurricane warning was posted for the southeastern Bahamas, where the storm was expected to move along the eastern length of the island chain starting early Wednesday. A hurricane watch was in effect for eastern Cuba, where the 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.
After passing Jamaica and Haiti, Matthew’s center was expected to pass about 50 miles east of the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where authorities evacuated about 700 spouses and children of service members on military transport planes to Florida.
The U.S. installation has a population of about 5,500, including 61 men held at the detention center for terrorism suspects. Navy Capt. David Culpepper, the base commander, said emergency shelters had been set up and authorities were bracing for 80 mph winds along with storm surge and heavy rain that could threaten some low-lying areas, including around the power plant and water desalination facility.
“We have no choice but to prepare ourselves to take a frontal assault if you will,” Culpepper said.
As to the possible impact for the Tri-State Area, it remained too early to tell on Monday. A high-pressure system is steering the hurricane, and if it is farther off to the west as it approaches, it could be driven toward the area.
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