Hurricane Matthew killed more than 800 people and left tens of thousands homeless in its rampage through Haiti earlier this week before it lashed Florida on Friday with howling winds and rumbled northward up the US Atlantic coast.
The number of deaths in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, surged to at least 842 on Friday as information trickled in from remote areas previously cut off by the storm, according to a Reuters tally of death tolls given by officials.
Matthew, the fiercest cyclone to affect the US since Superstorm Sandy four years ago, triggered mass evacuations along the coast from Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina and North Carolina.
Matthew smashed through Haiti’s western peninsula on Tuesday with 145 mph (233 kph) winds and torrential rain. Some 61,500 people were in shelters, officials said, after the storm pushed the sea into fragile coastal villages, some of which were only now being contacted.
At least three towns in the hills and coast of Haiti’s fertile western tip reported dozens killed. The mayor of Chantal said 86 people died in the small farming town, mostly when trees crushed houses. He said 20 others were missing.
“The entire house fell on us. I couldn’t get out,” said driver Jean-Pierre Jean-Donald, 27. “People came to lift the rubble, and then we saw my wife who had died in the same spot.”
With cellphone networks down and roads flooded, aid has been slow to reach hard-hit areas in Haiti. Food was scarce, and at least seven people died of cholera, likely because of flood water mixing with sewage.
The Mesa Verde, a US Navy amphibious transport dock ship, was heading for Haiti to support relief efforts. The ship has heavy-lift helicopters, bulldozers, fresh water delivery vehicles and two surgical operating rooms.
Matthew skirted Florida on Friday morning with winds of up to 120 mph (195 kph) but had not made landfall by the evening. The US National Hurricane Center downgraded the storm to a Category 2 as its sustained winds dropped to 110 mph. Category 5 is the strongest.
No significant damage was reported in Florida, where the storm brought down trees and power lines. One person was killed by a falling tree.
Hurricane warnings late on Friday extended up the Atlantic coast from northeast Florida through Georgia and South Carolina and into North Carolina.
Armed guards patrolled the outside of Fox Hill prison in Nassau, the only prison facility in the Bahamas, after the storm knocked down parts of its concrete walls.