PORT-AU-PRINCE (REUTERS, AFP) - Hurricane Matthew has killed at least 69 people, the death toll in struggling Haiti alone rising to 65, local officials said, as the storm headed northward on Thursday (Oct 6), battering the Bahamas en route to Florida.
Haiti's civil protection service put the toll in the impoverished Caribbean nation at 23 dead, many killed by falling trees, flying debris and swollen rivers. The interior ministry, a local mayor and other local delegates confirmed 42 other deaths across Haiti.
That included a group of 24 people killed in the coastal town of Roche-a-Bateau. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” said the town’s delegate Louis Paul Raphael.
Four people were killed earlier in neighboring Dominican Republic.
The Caribbean's worst storm in nearly a decade, Matthew slammed into Haiti, the Americas' poorest nation, with heavy rains and devastating winds triggering severe flooding and mud slides.
"The situation in the main cities we flew over was catastrophic," Haiti's interim president Jocelerme Privert said after surveying damage to the country's south on Wednesday (Oct 5) in a US Coast Guard plane.
"Jeremie, Les Cayes, Port-Salut, Petite-Riviere de Nippes, Dame Marie, among others, require all intervention without delay," he said, according to a statement issued on Wednesday.
More than 21,000 people have been evacuated to temporary shelters.
"We're making every effort to care for these people. The priority is drinking water and food," civil protection spokesman Edgar Celestin said.
Flooding brought on by Matthew has sparked a resurgence of cholera, with eight cases already reported.
Torrential rains have left around 2,000 homes flooded and damaged 10 schools, according to the latest partial assessment by authorities.
Both the death and damage tolls are likely to rise as rescue teams reach communities that have been cut off for the last 24 hours.
Initial surveys by helicopter found severely damaged houses, major farmland destruction and intense flooding.
Emergency services have been hampered by the collapse of a bridge, which closed off access to the only road linking Port-au-Prince to the peninsula that makes up southern Haiti.
Overflowing rivers are complicating efforts to access the area.