| LES CAYES, Haiti
LES CAYES, Haiti Oct 4 Haitians living in
vulnerable coastal shacks frantically sought safe shelter as the
strongest Caribbean storm in nine years, Hurricane Matthew,
closed in on the southwestern peninsula, sending storm surges,
wind and rain into seaside towns.
Matthew, a violent Category 4 storm packing 145
mile-per-hour (230 kph) winds, is due to pound the western tip
of Haiti in the early hours of Tuesday, the U.S. National
Hurricane Center said.
Already, late on Monday, the outer bands of the cyclone
reached the area, flooding dozens of houses in the town of Les
Anglais when the ocean rose, the local mayor said. In the town
of Les Cayes on the southern coast, the wind bent trees and the
power went out.
"We have gusts of wind hitting the whole area and the people
have fled to a shelter," said Les Anglais mayor Jean-Claude
Despierre. In Tiburon, another town nearby, the mayor said
people who had been reluctant to leave their homes also fled
when the sea rose.
"Everyone is trying to find a safe place to protect
themselves, the situation is very difficult," mayor Remiza
Denize said, describing large waves hitting the town.
The storm is forecast to spread hurricane force winds and up
to three feet of rain across denuded hills prone to flash floods
and mudslides, threatening villages as well as shanty towns in
the capital Port-au-Prince.
"This is the most vulnerable suburb in the area. Here people
are going about organizing things, we know that the hurricane is
coming," said Afou, a volunteer at a children's home made of tin
sheeting on the rubbish-strewn seashore of Haiti's Cite Soleil
slum in the capital.
"If things are bad then we will come together," said Afou,
who only gave his first name. Later, civil protection
authorities said 130 children were evacuated by bus from another
orphanage in the slum to a high school in the capital.
The Mayor of Cite Soleil, Frederic Hislain, said 150,000
people whose homes were threatened needed to be bused to safer
places, but accepted that many people would not want to leave.
Poor Haitians are often loathe to leave home in the face of
storms, fearing their few belongings will be stolen.
The cyclone comes at a bad time for Haiti, where tens of
thousands of people still live in tents after a 2010 earthquake
that killed upwards of 200,000 people. Cholera introduced by
U.N. peacekeepers is expected to rise in the October rainy
season, and the country was due to hold a long-delayed
presidential election in five days time.
The office of Interim President Jocelerme Privert said there
was no change to the election date.
On the north coast, some 300 detainees were transferred from
their prison near the sea in the town of Jeremie, the interior
Matthew is forecast to sweep over Cuba to the Bahamas on
Tuesday and possibly reach Florida by Thursday as a major
hurricane, though weaker than at present.
One of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent
history, it was about 100 miles (155 km) south of westernmost
Haiti at 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT) on Monday, the U.S. hurricane
Crawling north at about 7 miles-per-hour (11 kph), the storm
threatens to linger long enough for its winds and rain to cause
In Les Cayes about 150 people huddled without electricity or
food in the town's largest shelter, a school.
"There is no food," said Erick Cange, 69 years old, a
resident of the La Savanne neighborhood surrounding the school.
"Since yesterday we've had nothingWe must sleep on the
floorEveryone is hungry."
The conditions in the shelter compared unfavorably with
Haiti's neighbor Cuba, where authorities spent days organizing
teams of volunteers to move residents to safety and secure
The storm is expected to make a direct hit later on Tuesday
in the province of Guantanamo, the disputed home to a U.S. Naval
base and military prison but also a small Cuban city.
"We are receiving people living in villages prone to
flooding," said Alexis Iglesias, head of the evacuation
committee at Guantanamo University which was being used as
"Food is guaranteed and we have a generator that will
guarantee that the kitchen keeps on working in case of a power
cut," he said, at the shelter, where some 400 people were
(Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva in Port-au-Prince
and Sarah Marsh in Cuba; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel)