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Hurricane hits Haiti, heads to US

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Heavy rainfall from Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti on October 4. Matthew has been described by US National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen as a potentially ?catastrophic? storm and is expected to bring over three feet of the rain to the Caribbean nation, Reuters reported. Forecasters said it was the strongest storm to make landfall in Haiti since 1964. This footage, posted by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, is described as showing the severe weather conditions in Aux Cayes. Credit: Facebook/MINUSTAH

Hurricane Matthew over the Caribbean region and heading towards Florida. Picture: AP

HURRICANE Matthew has slammed into Haiti, triggering major floods and forcing thousands to flee the path of a storm that has already claimed three lives in the poorest country in the Americas.

The National Hurricane Center said Matthew made landfall shortly after daybreak as an “extremely dangerous” Category Four storm near the southwestern town of Les Anglais, packing maximum sustained winds of around 230 kilometres per hour.

The hurricane, which has killed seven people so far — three in Haiti and four in the Dominican Republic — is the Caribbean’s worst storm in nearly a decade.

US President Barack Obama was also forced to postpone a trip to South Florida, where he had planned to attend a campaign event in support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as the storm headed in that direction.

Matthew began battering Haiti late on Monday with strong winds and rising sea levels, before barrelling ashore some 402 kilometres west of the capital Port-au-Prince.

Even before making landfall along the southern edge of a jagged peninsula on Hispaniola — the island that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic — Matthew was blamed for at least three deaths in Haiti, with fears that the toll could climb.

By 2am AEDT it had travelled to the Gulf of Gonave on Haiti’s west coast, en route to Cuba, the Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean.

Matthew notched a four on the five-level Saffir-Simpson wind scale, the first Category Four hurricane to make landfall in Haiti since Cleo in 1964, the NHC said.

Governor Nikki Haley announces that she plans to call for the evacuation of about 1 million people from South Carolina's coast. Picture: AP/Jeffrey Collins

Governor Nikki Haley announces that she plans to call for the evacuation of about 1 million people from South Carolina’s coast. Picture: AP/Jeffrey CollinsSource:AP

Evacuations begin in US

Far to the north, the first evacuations were ordered in the United States as coastal dwellers prepared to flee the approaching monster storm, expected off the east coast later this week.

South Carolina said it would start evacuating 1.1 million people from its coast starting Wednesday and try to get them at least 160 kilometres inland.

Georgia declared a state of emergency in 13 counties.

“It’s not going to be a fast evacuation. It could take up to several hours,” South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said. “If you can leave early, do that.”

Wind blows coconut trees during the passage of Hurricane Matthew in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Picture: AP

Wind blows coconut trees during the passage of Hurricane Matthew in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Picture: APSource:AP

Haiti faces Matthew’s fury

The hurricane was forecast to dump 38 to 63 centimetres of rain over southern Haiti with up to a meter possible in isolated areas.

Rising waters already have caused extensive flooding in and around the flimsy homes and buildings in Haiti’s southwest.

More than 9000 Haitians have been evacuated to temporary shelters at area schools and churches, the Interior Ministry said. But 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, including Cite Soleil — where one fifth of the half-million residents face serious flooding risks — and the seaside Cite L’Eternel.

A woman protects herself from the rain with plastic after Hurricane Matthew, in Port-au-Prince. Picture: AFP

A woman protects herself from the rain with plastic after Hurricane Matthew, in Port-au-Prince. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

Part of the seaport city of Les Cayes was underwater after being deluged by Matthew, which now is blamed for triggering mudslides.

“We have already recorded a landslide between Les Cayes and Tiburon” in Haiti’s Sud department, Marie-Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti’s civil protection, said.

Haiti is home to almost 11 million people, many living in fragile housing. Thousands are still living in tents in Haiti after the country’s massive earthquake in 2010. Erosion is especially dangerous because of high mountains and a lack of trees and bushes in areas where they have been cut for fuel.

The head of one international relief group warned not just about the physical ravages from Matthew, but health risks as well.

“As it struggles with Zika and a prolonged cholera epidemic, this hurricane is a natural disaster that compounds an already desperate public health situation,” said Gary Gottlieb, the CEO of the group Partners in Health.

A worker removes plywood from shop windows after the passing of Hurricane Matthew in Kingston, Jamaica. Picture: AP

A worker removes plywood from shop windows after the passing of Hurricane Matthew in Kingston, Jamaica. Picture: APSource:AP

UNICEF said it worries in particular about the plight of Haiti’s vulnerable children.

“Water-borne diseases are the first threat to children in similar situations — our first priority is to make sure children have enough safe water,” the group said.

Interim President Jocelerme Privert urged Haitians to do what they could to get out of the path of the storm.

“My countrymen, do not be stubborn, do not say ‘God is good’ and will take care of you,” he said in an address on Monday. “We have no interest in risking your lives.”

A woman pushes a wheelbarrow while walking in a partially flooded street, in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Picture: AFP

A woman pushes a wheelbarrow while walking in a partially flooded street, in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

In nearby Jamaica, officials said the army and military reserves were called up to help deal with hurricane damage. Buses were also sent to flood-prone areas to move residents to shelters.

USAID said it has dispatched an elite disaster response team to Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

It also is sending some $US400,000 in assistance to aid groups in Haiti and Jamaica for “critical relief to those impacted by the storm,” and emergency relief supplies, including blankets, plastic sheeting and collapsible water containers.

Hurricane specialist Eric Blake monitors the path of Hurricane Matthew at the National Hurricane Centre. Picture: AP

Hurricane specialist Eric Blake monitors the path of Hurricane Matthew at the National Hurricane Centre. Picture: APSource:AP

Mass evacuations in Cuba

The Red Cross has also deployed disaster teams to the countries most severely affected by Matthew.

Cuba has evacuated some 316,000 people from the east of the island, where Matthew was expected to hit later Tuesday.

“No one likes to leave their homes, but the sea is going to rise and that is very dangerous,” said Pedro Gonzalez, a retired chef who had to leave a fishing islet where he lives, off the city of Santiago.