Hurricane Matthew made landfall in southwestern Haiti early Tuesday, 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 Center said Matthew made landfall as an "extremely dangerous" Category Four storm near the town of Les Anglais at around 7 am (1100 GMT) packing maximum sustained winds of around 145 miles (230 kilometers) per hour.
The most menacing storm in nearly a decade, Matthew began battering Haiti late Monday with strong winds and rising sea levels, before slamming ashore some 250 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince.
Even before making landfall along the southern edge of a jagged 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 Monday in the coastal town of Port-Salut when she was unable to leave her house to receive medical care, authorities said.
On 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 38 to 63 centimeters (15 to 25 inches) of rain over southern Haiti with up to a meter possible in isolated areas.
In Les Anglais, rising waters swamped the national highway, and the hurricane — slowly creeping northward at around nine miles per hour — has caused extensive flooding in and around the flimsy homes and buildings in Haiti\’s southwest.
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 neighborhoods, including Cite Soleil — where some 100,000 of the total 500,000 residents face serious flooding risks — and the seaside Cite L\’Eternel.
Workers used heavy machinery to empty canals in central Port-au-Prince that have been blocked by trash for months, although they were unlikely to complete the job in time.
Edgar Celestin, a spokesman for Haiti\’s civil protection agency told AFP that the hurricane was responsible for overnight flooding in 11 communes.
Part of the seaport city of Les Cayes was underwater after being deluged by recent rains, which now are also being blamed for 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 told AFP.
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.
Interim President Jocelerme Privert in an address to the nation urged Haitians on Monday 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.
"The dangerous areas will be evacuated," he added. "We have no interest in risking your lives."
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.
US embassies in Haiti and Jamaica closed for a second day on Tuesday due to the storm.
Cuba, meanwhile, 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.
At the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — located along Matthew\’s predicted path — officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for all non-essential personnel and family members. Imates in the base\’s prison are safe, US military officials said.
Forecasters predict the hurricane could hit the US East Coast around midweek. Florida and parts of North Carolina have declared states of emergency.