Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti with devastating force on Tuesday, October 4, as preliminary reports indicated at least four dead and thousands evacuated, as well as dozens of homes destroyed.
With maximum sustained winds of 230 km/h, placing it in category four on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, the powerful storm struck the Haitian city of Anglais at around 7am (local time), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Before making landfall in Haiti, Matthew had already caused floods in 11 communities, reported Edgar Celestin, the country’s Civil Protection spokesman speaking to AFP.
Waters inundated the national highway in Anglais, while the hurricane also caused damage to precarious buildings.
Floods were also seen in Les Cayes, Haiti’s third largest city.
Marie-Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Civil Protection reported the occurrence of landslides, noting that many people living in the most vulnerable areas refused to evacuate and leave their belongings behind.
These zones include extremely poor, densely populated neighborhoods such as Cite Soleil and Port-au-Prince’s Cite L'Eternel, on the coast.
A total of 648 Cuban collaborators are currently offering services in Haiti, including doctors and processionals participating on other missions. “All are perfectly well,” stated Dr. Lorenzo Mojena, head of the Cuban medical brigade in that country, speaking with Granma International via telephone. “The hurricane forecasts were correct, with strong rains, winds, and extensive flooding,” stated Mojena at about 6pm, on October 4, when the country was still experiencing the full force of the storm.
Dr. Mojena reiterated that the most severely affected area was the country’s southern region, home to remote communities and deteriorated infrastructure marked by the fallen buildings, collapsed bridges and communication pylons, placing the Haitian people once again in a critical situation.
He explained that the Cuban Embassy had set-up a command center to ensure the safety of collaborators and the functioning of the brigade and other government initiatives in the country. He expressed his gratitude for the close communication maintained with authorities from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health.
“We are 100% willing to work on epidemiological control and prevention efforts, and are set to see a difficult situation, as the rains have complicated the country’s healthcare system,” highlighted the head of Cuba’s medical brigade.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring Dominican Republic, the Emergency Operations Center (COE) reported at least four dead and 8,546 persons evacuated in Santo Domingo and provinces bordering Haiti.
Intense rains and floods were reported in the capital of Santo Domingo, where educational authorities suspended classes until Wednesday, October 5, in 24 of the country’s 32 provinces, as a preventative measure.
Hurricane Matthew also hit Jamaica, where the National Army and military reserves helped with emergency efforts, while buses were sent to evacuate people living in the most vulnerable areas.
Granma International also established contact with this Caribbean nation, where 209 collaborators are currently offering their services. According to Dr. Héctor Mustelier, head of the island’s medical brigade in Jamaica, recovery efforts have increased as the rains have subsided.
He noted that the Cuban healthcare professionals are fine and have responded to the call by the country’s health authorities to aid in recovery efforts. Mustelier also pointed out that on October 5, all brigade members returned to their normal activities in the institutions where they work.
“Now, the most important thing is health promotion and prevention to avoid the spread of diseases following the rains,” he noted.
After hitting Cuba, the hurricane is forecast to make its way north-west toward the Bahamas, passing close by Florida’s east coast (where a state of emergency has been declared) in the United States, later in the week.
“We haven’t felt the onslaught yet, but necessary measures have already been taken to protect collaborators in the Bahamas,” stated Dr. Tomás Reinoso, head of the Cuban medical brigade in that country, speaking to Granma International.
Commenting on actions undertaken, he noted that sufficient supplies and water have been stored for the duration of the storm; work timetables have been modified with emergency or regular service collaborators only working in healthcare facilities, all the while protected within these buildings.
Dr. Reinoso also highlighted the close and frequent communication maintained with the Central Unit for Medical Collaboration (UCCM) in Cuba and the island’s Ministry of Pubic Health, which has also taken on the task of contacting the families of brigade members to keep them up-dated on the welfare of collaborators - a total of 114 based in the country.
“Measures have been taken,” noted the brigade director, adding that Matthew is scheduled to hit the island with devastating force, according to news reports. Dr. Reinoso explained that it has been a long time since a hurricane of this magnitude has hit the Bahamas and could potentially be the strongest of the decade.
At press time Granma International also contacted Dr. Regla Angulo Pardo, director of the UCCM, who confirmed that once the Hurricane watch had been issued, work began to identify countries that would be affected in the Caribbean, and where Cuban collaborators are working: Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas.
“The Ministry of Public Health’s main office, with which the UCCM is affiliated, was activated, and as such close communication has been maintained every six hours with the heads of the medical brigades through reports and telephone calls, in order to verify that all protection measures are being carried out,” she highlighted.
The director of the UCCM noted that every single collaborator has been contacted, all of whom have water, food and fuel reserves for a minimum of 10 days, as well as other supplies such as flashlights, candles, matches, and phone credit, in order to remain in contact.
“All collaborators are in safe places and those working alone have also been moved to these zones. They are also fully ready to attend any emergency and participate in recovery efforts in these countries,” she stated.
In order to reassure collaborators in regards to actions being undertaken in Cuba in light of Hurricane Matthew, the UCCM is making efforts to keep them up-dated on the impact of the storm in the east of the island.