As Hurricane Matthew continues building strength and heading north toward Florida’s east coast, residents of Haiti are struggling with downed communications, massive flooding, and widespread structural damage. The National Weather Service has recommended more than 2 million people in coastal Florida, Georgia and South Carolina leave their homes, making this the largest mandatory evacuation since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Hurricane Matthew is expected to make a “direct hit” in southern Florida early Friday.
So far, Hurricane Matthew’s death toll has risen to 15, all residents of Caribbean countries which have suffered massive flooding from storm surges and heavy rain. As the storm heads to the US, President Barack Obama issued a statement on Wednesday warning those living in the path of the storm that the hurricane could have “a devastating effect,” urging residents to heed evacuation warnings in order to protect their lives.
Related: Hurricane Matthew hits Haiti as Category 4 hurricane en route to Cuba
Florida Governor Rick Scott has issued evacuation orders for many counties in Florida starting at 6 a.m. ET, stretching from the Miami area north to the Georgia border. Commercial flights have been cancelled, state offices will be closed Thursday and Friday, and many hospitals have begun evacuating patients in anticipation of a potentially devastating storm strike. As is par for the course in the hours before a hurricane hits Florida, grocery store shelves are empty as people stock up on water, food, and batteries. Although the storm was downgraded to a Category 3 yesterday, Hurricane Matthew currently has sustained winds of 125mph, putting it at the upper end of that category, and it is expected to gain strength before reaching Florida as a Category 4 storm.
Meanwhile, much of Haiti is underwater in the wake of the storm, which is the biggest natural disaster to affect the impoverished island nation since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Massive flooding has caused widespread structural damage, and a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at least 350,000 people are in need of immediate assistance. Communication lines are down throughout the nation (as well as in the Bahamas), so it has been difficult for authorities to get updates on the extent of the damage. With so many people impacted by the storm, the net result is expected to be a tremendous loss of residential structures, businesses, infrastructure like hospitals and state offices, as well as devastating losses in agriculture and other industries. Many first responders have already been deployed, including representatives of UNICEF, the Red Cross, and the US Coast Guard. In the months and years following Hurricane Matthew, Haiti will need support from the international community in order to survive.
Images via NOAA, UNICEF and UNDP