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Strongest Caribbean Hurricane In Nearly 10 Years Hits Haiti


Hurricane Matthew is expected to hit the Bahamas tonight, sweep into northern Florida's Atlantic coast on Friday and then, perhaps, South Carolina by Saturday. There, Governor Nikki Haley is ordering an evacuation along the coast. Matthew struck Cuba last night and, before that, Haiti, which is where reporter Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald is covering the storm and its aftermath. She joins us now via Skype from Port-au-Prince. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: And what was it like as the hurricane passed through yesterday?

CHARLES: Well, I can tell you it was a lot of rain - a lot of rain and a lot of wind. We're still not able to get a really good sense of the damage that was done in the southern area of the country because the areas that were hardest hit are still inaccessible. And at the same time, there's a bridge that leads into the south, and that bridge collapsed thanks to Matthew. And so, as of yesterday and as of this morning, actually, there is still no way into the southern part of the country. We have to wait till the weather dies down, and they can probably helicopter in.

MONTAGNE: And still a lot of rain there?

CHARLES: There was a lot of rain last night and there was a lot of - this morning in Port-au-Prince, there's no rain, but we still have to see what the flooding situation is like. That was a real concern because even before Matthew, the grounds were already saturated. So the idea that you can have up to 25 inches of rain was a really scary thought, especially in the capital, where we've seen a lot of flooding and mudslides, you know, in the past.

MONTAGNE: Now, you were telling us yesterday morning that Haiti's government did not have much capacity to evacuate people and not many shelters to send them to. And what are you hearing this morning about conditions?

CHARLES: What happened is that they were voluntarily asking people to evacuate. And there's 1,300 shelters around the country. And late into the night, as Matthew actually started to bear down on people, people actually were running into shelters. And so we had a situation where the numbers went from maybe, like, 2,000 to over 9,000 people who finally made it into shelters.

But the problem was that in terms of the local governments and local cities, they really did not have the capacity to move people. They didn't have access to transportation. Yesterday, I visited a shelter. They didn't have food. They barely had any water. I mean, this government is cash-strapped.

It's supposed to have an election on Sunday. That is still questionable whether or not that will be able to take place, given the damage. But, you know, there's a real humanitarian concern here now in the after-effects of the storm.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, there's been talk about cholera, which has been a problem for Haiti since that terrible earthquake. What are the most urgent needs now?

CHARLES: I spoke to the minister of interior yesterday, and he said to me, quote, unquote, "our biggest concern right now is cholera." I mean, with all this water - dirty water, you know, everywhere, they're concerned that people will have a spike. There's over 9,000 people who have died as a result of cholera. Over 700,000 people have been killed by cholera. And so they really need to get potable water to people so that they do not, you know, end up suffering as a result of cholera, which can kill you. So that is a huge concern - potable water, hygiene kits to folks. And at the same time, we have to remember, with this storm, people lost their homes. They lost their farms. And you're looking at a very huge humanitarian situation in the coming weeks and coming months.

MONTAGNE: Jacqueline, thanks very much.

CHARLES: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Jacqueline Charles is with the Miami Herald, speaking to us from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.