Hurricane Matthew — a Category 4 storm — hit Haiti yesterday, flooding thousands of homes, destroying farms and crops, and killing livestock. The Haitian government has reported that five people have been killed, one is missing, and 14,530 have been evacuated, but the toll is expected to rise, according to The New York Times. Mourad Wahba, a UN official in Haiti, said the hurricane was "the largest humanitarian event" in Haiti since the devastating earthquake in 2010.
This morning, the hurricane was downgraded to Category 3 as it passed through Cuba, heading toward the United States. The National Hurricane Center put out an advisory for the area, which includes Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Lake Okeechobee on the Florida coast. Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina — where the hurricane is expected to arrive between Thursday night and Saturday — have all declared emergencies, bracing themselves for one the worst storms heading to the East Coast.
"The problem we have with this storm is that the projected path is right along our coast," Florida Governor Rick Scott said. "If it turns, we’re not going to have a lot of time to make a decision. The best thing is to be prepared and not to take any chances."
Officials in Florida and South Carolina ordered residents in certain coastal areas to evacuate. Schools were closed, and news organizations are reporting long lines at gas stations and heavy traffic, as residents flee. This morning, Gov. Nikki Haley held a news conference detailing the state's preparations for the storm, which could see upwards of a quarter million people evacuated from the coast later this afternoon. More than 2,000 National Guard soldiers have been mobilized across the Southern states. If Hurricane Matthew does make landfall in Florida this week, it’ll be the second one to do so in 11 years, after Hurricane Hermine hit the state on September 1st.
In Haiti, the 145-mile-per-hour winds and heavy rain ripped off roofs, downed trees, and flooded streets. Aid organizations are working to bring people from damaged homes into shelters and to provide drinking water. "Our first priority is to make sure children have enough safe water," Marc Vincent, the Unicef representative in Haiti, told the Times.
The timing of Hurricane Matthew is particularly sensitive for the Caribbean island of 11 million people. Haiti is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 220,000 people. More than 50,000 Haitians are still living in shelters because of that natural disaster. The island is also facing a cholera outbreak that started after the earthquake and spiked this year.
The hurricane "has the potential to be a big setback for years of efforts to bring cholera under control," Jessica Pearl, the Haiti country director for the Mercy Corps charity, told The New York Times. "The people here have just been pushed down by one thing after another."