PORT-AU-PRINCE • Hurricane Matthew made landfall in south-western Haiti yesterday, triggering major floods and forcing thousands to flee the path of the deadly storm that has already claimed two lives in the poorest country in the Americas.
The National Hurricane Centre said Matthew made landfall as an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm near the town of Les Anglais at around 7am packing maximum sustained winds of around 230kmh.
The most menacing storm in nearly a decade, Matthew began battering Haiti late on Monday with strong winds and rising sea levels, before slamming ashore about 400km west of the capital Port-au-Prince.
Even before making landfall along the southern edge of a peninsula on Hispaniola, the divided island that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, Matthew was blamed for at least two deaths in Haiti.
One of the victims was a sickly woman who died late on Monday in the coastal town of Port-Salut when she could not leave her house to receive medical care, the authorities said. Last Friday, a fisherman died after his boat sank in southern Haiti. Another individual went missing and is feared to have died in similar circumstances on Sunday.
Forecasts predict Matthew will dump 38cm to 63cm of rain over southern Haiti, with up to a metre possible in isolated areas.
In Les Anglais, rising waters swamped the national highway, and the hurricane - slowly creeping north at around 14kmh - has caused extensive flooding in and around the flimsy homes and buildings in Haiti's south-west. Forecasts said landslides and flash- flooding are likely before Matthew moves on to Cuba, the Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean.
More than 6,400 people have been evacuated to temporary shelters in Haiti, although civil protection forces have struggled with locals who refused to leave some of the most vulnerable areas.
They included the capital's extremely impoverished, densely populated neighbourhoods such as Cite Soleil, where some 100,000 of the total 500,000 residents face serious flooding risks, and seaside slum Cite L'Eternel.
US embassies in Haiti and Jamaica closed for a second day yesterday due to the storm.
Cuba, meanwhile, yesterday evacuated some 316,000 people from the east of the island where Matthew was expected to hit.