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Aid agency CARE said the southern city of Jeremie was left nearly completely rased.
“It’s complete destruction in Jeremie,” CARE Haiti country director Jean-Michel Vigreux tweeted. “About 80 percent of the buildings are gone. All phone lines and electricity are gone. Access is completely cut off, and everyone is running out of food and money.”
Officials said they were especially concerned about the department of Grand-Anse, located on the northern tip of the peninsula that was slammed by the Category 4 storm, which severed roads and communications links. Officials with the Civil Protection Agency said 38 of the known deaths were reported in Grand-Anse.
“[It] got hit extremely hard,” said Guillaume Albert Moleon, an interior ministry spokesman.
Matthew mashed concrete walls and tore away rooftops, forcing thousands of Haitians to flee for their lives.
In the southwest seaport of Les Cayes, many were searching for clean water on Thursday as they lugged mattresses and other scant belongings they were able to salvage.
“Nothing is going well,” said Jardine Laguerre, a teacher. “The water took what little money we had. We are hungry.”
Authorities and aid workers were just beginning to get a clear picture of what they fear is the country’s biggest disaster in years.
Before hitting Haiti the storm was blamed for four deaths in the Dominican Republic, one in Colombia and one in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
In Haiti’s southern peninsula towns, where Matthew arrived around daybreak on Tuesday with 145 mph (235 kph) winds, there was wreckage and misery everywhere.
“The floodwater took all the food we have in the house. Now we are starving and don’t have anything to cook,” said farmer Antoine Louis as he stood in brown water up to his thighs in the doorway of his deluged concrete shack.
In Aquin, a coastal town outside Les Cayes, people trudged through mud around the wreckage of clapboard houses and tiny shops.
Cenita Leconte was one of many who initially ignored calls to evacuate vulnerable shacks before Matthew roared ashore. The 75-year-old was thankful she finally complied and made it through the terrifying ordeal with her life.
“We’ve lost everything we own. But it would have been our fault if we stayed here and died,” she told The Associated Press as neighbours poked through the wreckage, hoping to find at least some of their possessions.
Civil aviation authorities reported seeing 3,214 destroyed homes along the southern peninsula, where many families live in shacks with sheet metal roofs.
The government has estimated at least 350,000 people need some kind of assistance after the disaster, which UN Deputy Special Representative for Haiti Mourad Wahba has called the country’s worst humanitarian crisis since the devastating earthquake of 2010.
International aid groups are already appealing for donations ahead of a lengthy recovery effort in Haiti, the hemisphere’s least developed and most aid-dependent nation.
In coming days, US military personnel equipped with nine helicopters were expected to start arriving to help deliver food and water to hard-hit areas.
As recovery efforts in Haiti continued, Matthew pummeled the Bahamian capital of Nassau on Thursday with winds of 140 mph (220 kph). The head of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Authority, Captain Stephen Russell, told The Associated Press that there were many downed trees and power lines but no reports of casualties.
Authorities shut down the power grid to protect it against the winds.
In nearby Cuba, Matthew blew across that island’s sparsely populated eastern tip, destroying dozens of homes and damaging hundreds in the island’s easternmost city, Baracoa. But the government oversaw the evacuation of nearly 380,000 people and strong measures were taken to protect communities and infrastructure, UN officials said.
Matthew was on a path forecast to take it close to the US East Coast, where authorities were carrying out large-scale evacuations. Matthew had dropped slightly to a Category 3 storm after crossing land in Haiti and eastern Cuba but strengthened once again to a Category 4, officials said.
It was located about 180 miles (290 kilometres) southeast of West Palm Beach in Florida and was moving at 14 mph (22 kph) at 3pm GMT.