Hurricane Matthew is being called “a monster” and truly the proverbial “storm of the century” as it heads toward Florida’s east coast.
Matthew has already left hundreds dead in the Caribbean, including at least 283 on Haiti.
As of late Thursday, Matthew was pounding the western end of Grand Bahama Island and is moving northwest with a direct hit on Florida expected by early Friday.
It is a powerful Category 4 storm with top sustained winds of 210 kilometers per hour.
Florida officials are calling anyone who decided not to evacuate “fools” and “idiots,” and cannot stress enough that this is an extremely dangerous storm with a potentially disastrous impact on the state.
President Barack Obama has already declared a state of emergency for Florida and South Carolina.
National Guard activated
Florida Governor Rick Scott has activated 3,500 National Guard troops. Experts say parts of the state could be uninhabitable for weeks after the storm.
Some Florida residents who have lived in the state 50 years or more and have lived through the worst mother nature can dish up fled their homes, telling reporters Matthew looks like a “bad one.”
Spokesman Raphael Lemaitre of the Federal Emergency Management Administration told VOA the agency has personnel and other resources ready to go.
“We have commodities on the ground already prelocated in several different staging areas throughout the potentially affected areas. Things like food, water, blankets, cots. We also have personnel on the ground there, rapid response teams,” Lemaitre said.
Forecasters say the greatest danger from the storm is not the wind, but the heavy storm surge that can be as high as 4.5 meters above normal tides.
Devastation in Haiti
Matthew has left behind painful scenes of misery on Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
The government said at least 283 people have been killed and the death toll is sure to rise, not just from the storm itself but from cholera and other post-storm dangers.
The only bridge connecting the southern peninsula to the Haitian mainland was washed away, making the full extent of the damage in the south frustratingly unknown.
Interim Haitian President Jocelerme Privert flew over the southern peninsula in a U.S. Coast Guard plane Wednesday and described the situation as “catastrophic.”
The World Bank has a team in Haiti and is in the process of allocating funds to help with relief efforts.
“Our staff on the ground are already working with the Ministry of Public Works to begin restoring access to the hardest hit areas in the south of the country, including a key bridge that was washed away,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said.
The United Nations says nearly 6 million Haitians have been affected by the storm with 350,000 people needing immediate aid.
The U.S. Navy has nine military helicopters, an aircraft carrier and troops on hand in response to the Haitian government’s request for help. Some of the helicopters are equipped for search-and-rescue missions and others for transporting supplies.
Dave Herman, of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the U.S. government is working “very diligently” with Catholic Relief Services and the Red Cross to ensure relief aid is distributed to Haiti’s most vulnerable people.
Haiti has postponed Sunday’s presidential election. Matthew also caused widespread destruction on Cuba, but no deaths.
VOA Creole contributed to this report.