Florida, Carolinas Brace for Hurricane Matthew
Empty shelves and long gas-station lines were reported across the Southeast as coastal communities prepared for the storm.
Hurricane Matthew, the Caribbean's worst storm in nearly a decade, barreled towards the Bahamas Wednesday morning after killing nine people and pummeling Haiti and Cuba.
Far to the north, the first evacuations were ordered in the United States as coastal residents prepared to escape the approaching monster storm, expected off the East Coast later this week.
In Haiti, severe flooding and devastating winds caused untold damage to the Americas' poorest nation, where officials were still largely unable to communicate with the country's hard-hit south, where telecommunications had been disrupted.
Meanwhile the collapse of a bridge cut off the only road linking Port-au-Prince to the peninsula that makes up southern Haiti, compounding the isolation caused by the storm.
Matthew's overall death toll stands at nine -- five in Haiti and four in the Dominican Republic -- but is certain to rise as the storm bruises its way north.
A partial assessment of the damage in Haiti that excluded the department of Grande Anse, which was in the direct eye of the storm, indicated that 14,500 people had been displaced and 1,855 homes flooded. Those numbers were expected to increase dramatically once communication is reestablished with the area.
Officials reported one person missing and around 10 injured so far in Haiti, where forecasters say hurricane conditions are still affecting the northwest portion of the country.
Next in line, Cuba was hit late Tuesday afternoon when Matthew made landfall on its eastern tip.
The storm's center has since moved northeast of the island, and is heading north at 10 miles per hour towards the Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center said.
"Strong winds, heavy rains and a dangerous storm surge (are) beginning to spread over the Bahamas," the NHC reported in its 0900 GMT bulletin, downgrading Matthew to a Category Three storm.
Americans meanwhile girded for a taste of nature's fury, with Matthew forecast to strengthen again over the next couple days.
Florida and South Carolina as well as parts of North Carolina and Georgia have declared states of emergency. South Carolina said it would start evacuating 1.1 million people from its coast Wednesday and try to get them at least 100 miles inland.
"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."
The storm is expected to move across the Bahamas through Thursday and near the coast of Florida Thursday evening, the NHC said.
Matthew was forecast to dump 15 to 25 inches of rain over southern Haiti with up to three feet possible in isolated areas, and has been blamed for triggering mudslides.
The key port of Les Cayes, the country's third city is "very seriously damaged," said Hervil Cherubin, Haiti director for the aid group Heifer International. "Most roofs of houses, shops, gas stations are all gone."
The country is home to almost 11 million people, with thousands still living in tents after the massive earthquake in 2010.
Matthew already holds the longevity record for a Category Four and Five hurricane in the Caribbean, according to meteorologist Philip Klotzbach from Colorado State University.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) dispatched an elite disaster response team to the Bahamas, Haiti and Jamaica.
It is also sending some $400,000 in assistance to aid groups in Haiti and Jamaica and emergency relief supplies.
The Pentagon said 700 family members of personnel have been evacuated from the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, on Cuba's eastern tip, to Florida.
President Barack Obama postponed a trip to South Florida, where he had planned to attend a campaign event in support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
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