Hurricane Matthew pounded the Bahamas on Thursday on its way to the United States, after leaving behind a humanitarian crisis in Haiti.
At least 269 people have been killed so far in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said, with the death toll expected to rise.
Haiti, still recovering from the catastrophic 2010 earthquake which killed hundreds of thousands, was hit hardest with more than 264 people reported dead as of Thursday evening, local time.
As the death toll rises and crucial infrastructure crumbles, thousands have been displaced.
Mourad Wahba, the UN secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Haiti, described Matthew as the “largest humanitarian event” since the earthquake.
Four people died in the Dominican Republic, the country’s government said. Authorities there did not provide details about how they died.
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a teenage boy died in a landslide as he was cleaning a drain behind his house, the National Emergency Management Office said. He died Wednesday after storms from Matthew passed.
Haiti: ‘A total disaster’
Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Haiti on Tuesday but its devastating impact is only now coming to light.
At least 1,580 homes have been flooded in the country, and about 3,215 families have been affected by the severe storm, the country’s Civil Protection Agency said.
More than 300,000 people are in shelters across the country, the United Nations said.
Haitian pastor Louis St. Germain said the storm sheared a wall off his house and tore roofs off many buildings in the area.
“The river has overflowed all around us,” St. Germain said. “It’s terrible … a total disaster.”
Southern Haiti was hit especially hard, where winds of 125 mph (200 kph) destroyed homes, flooded villages and cut off the island from the rest of the country.
National Route 2, which connects Port-au-Prince with Haiti’s southern peninsula, broke apart when the bridge collapsed, the country’s civil protection agency said.
In the wake of the storm, the Electoral Commission postponed the country’s presidential election, which had been scheduled for Sunday. A new date has not been set.
Tim Callaghan, assistance response team leader for the US Agency for International Development in Haiti, told CNN that much of the damage in Haiti’s hardest hit areas — the southwestern cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie — appeared to be structural, and not the result of heavy rainfall.
“The urgent need we’re focusing on right now is food, safe drinking water and … things like plastic sheeting, hygiene kits and so forth,” he said.
“We’re in the most critical phase to support people.”
Dominique Fevry-Gilliand, a spokeswoman for Oxfam Canada, said up to 80% of homes in the most affected areas were destroyed. There was also extensive damage to crops along swaths of southern Haiti.
“Most likely, in the next couple of weeks and months, one of the things they will have to deal with in that region is hunger,” she said.
Bahamas: Damage still unknown
The powerful hurricane passed over the Bahamas capital, Nassau, on Thursday afternoon, with casualties and damage mostly unknown.
“One of the main roadways in front of Sandals (resort) has been blocked off by debris and fallen trees,” Nassau resident Denzil Sirra told CNN, adding his house had not been damaged.
“A lot of debris and fallen trees and damaged shrubs. No electricity right now. Still have running water.”
Officials said the hurricane caused flooding in southern and eastern coastal communities and structural damage to a number of resorts in Nassau.
CNN meteorologists said storm surges in the Bahamas reached as high as 15 feet, along with intense rains and damaging winds.
Cuba: Dozens of houses washed away
More than 30 houses were washed away by Hurricane Matthew in Cuba’s northeastern seaside town of Baracoa, the site where Christopher Columbus first landed in the Americas, a resident in the town said.
No fatalities were reported, as the seafront area of the town had been evacuated ahead of Matthew’s arrival.
Elsewhere in the region, hundreds of people lost the roofs on their houses due to the storm, Cuban state media reported.
US braces for impact
Officials in the United States have taken steps to prepare for the storm’s arrival. Governors in four Southern states have declared states of emergency.
“I cannot emphasize enough that everyone in our state must prepare now for a direct hit,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “Having a plan in place could mean the difference between life and death.”