Hurricane Matthew carves a devastating path through Haiti

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People inspect the rising water level of a river due to the rains caused by Hurricane Matthew passing through Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins - RTSQRRK

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JUDY WOODRUFF:  Reports are just beginning to trickle in tonight, but already it’s clear Hurricane Matthew has sent long-suffering Haiti even deeper into misery.  There’s word of at least seven dead and widespread wreckage.

MAN:  This is Matthew.  Pray for us!

JUDY WOODRUFF:  It’s one of the fiercest Caribbean storms in years, and its powerful core roared over the southwestern tip of Haiti before dawn, with winds of 145 miles an hour.

Emergency officials reported major damage, roots ripped apart, trees torn out of the ground, and roads and bridges underwater.  Forecasters had said the storm would dump as much as 40 inches of rain on the poorest country in the Americas.

Jacqueline Charles is a reporter from The Miami Herald.  She spoke from Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

JACQUELINE CHARLES:  We have rivers that are beginning to rise.  There’s one major bridge that connects the capital with the north.  And police basically blocked traffic from using that bridge because it’s now become a dangerous situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  After crossing Haiti, the hurricane’s center moved on during the day to strike Eastern Cuba tonight, not far from the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay.  Its approach sent people fleeing across the region.

MAN (through translator):  Last night was terrible.  The waves were enormous, to the point where I thought they were going to enter the house.  They were very big.  They were worse than now.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Overnight, the slow-moving Matthew is set to barrel through the Eastern Bahamas.  It’s projected to head toward Florida at the end of the week, and push its way up the U.S. East Coast over the weekend.

Today, Florida Governor Rick Scott was out telling people to start getting ready without delay.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R-Fla.):  Once this storm comes, we cannot put our first-responders in harm’s way.  You must leave before it’s too late.  You can rebuild a home, you can rebuild a business, you cannot rebuild a life.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Hurricane watches are now up for the southeastern parts of Florida.  And farther up the coast, South Carolina’s governor has announced plans to evacuate one million people.

And for the very latest on Matthew, we turn to the National Hurricane Center.

I spoke with its director, Rick Knabb, in Miami just a short time ago.

Rick Knabb, welcome.

First of all, where is this storm right now?

RICK KNABB, Director, National Hurricane Center:  Right now, Hurricane Matthew is centered in between Haiti and Eastern Cuba, will clip the eastern tip of Cuba this evening.

Then it will be headed toward the Bahamas.  And it’s still going to be impacting Haiti and Cuba for many, many hours to come.  It’s not just a point on a map.  It’s a pretty big and powerful hurricane, still a Category 4.  It’s not just about wind either, heavy rainfall, likely flash floods and mudslides affecting Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and that could spread into Eastern Cuba, and then the Bahamas, hurricanes warning for the entire length of the Bahamas.  They’re going to be impacted starting tomorrow.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  You said it’s a powerful storm.  Compared to other hurricanes, how do you describe it?

RICK KNABB:  It is similar to many other past major hurricanes that are Category 3 or stronger on our five-tier hurricane wind scale.

And Matthew’s sustain winds are 140 miles per hour.  So those are the maximum winds, but the tropical storm-force winds can extend out to almost 200 miles from the center.  So it’s a big and powerful system.  And what we’re really concerned about is a large number of folks in the Bahamas being impacted, but also then we’re forecasting this turn to the northwest.

Florida, and Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina are all threatened, with Florida being first, hurricane watches in effect for portions of the southeast coast of Florida.  We even had to extend that a little farther south to include Broward County, the Fort Lauderdale area, here at 5:00 p.m.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, what are you able to determine in terms of how strong it’s going to stay?

RICK KNABB:  It’s not going to interact with land enough to significantly weaken it.  It’s good that it’s not spending too much time over Eastern Cuba tonight.  And then, as it’s over the Bahamas, that’s mostly a water environment.  The islands there probably are not going to cause it to weaken.

The waters are very warm, the atmosphere conditions still conducive for this to remain a major hurricane for the next few days.  And that means it’s not impossible for a major hurricane to make landfall somewhere in the state of Florida this week.  And it’s also possible for hurricanes to directly or indirectly impact Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

So, we have been talking to emergency managers in all of these areas today, and we urge folks to pay attention, do whatever their local officials are telling them to do.  And here in South Florida, where we live, today and tomorrow and tomorrow night is the time left to prepare before the weather starts going downhill down here on Thursday morning.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And, Rick Knabb, when is the next alert you’re going to be issuing?

RICK KNABB:  We issue full updates, with a complete new forecast every six hours.  So, that will happen again at 11:00 p.m. Eastern time tonight.  We do issue intermediate public advisories every three hours in between to update on the intensity and on the position as we continue to fly hurricane hunter aircraft into and around the hurricane.

But the next complete forecast and major changes that we would potentially communicate with watches and warnings will happen again at 11:00 p.m. and then again at 5:00 a.m.  So, people on the East Coast of the U.S., just don’t tune out.  And take preliminary preparations, so you know what you’re going to do if watches and warnings are issued for your area later.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, I know everyone is going to be paying very close attention.

Rick Knabb with the National Hurricane Center, we thank you.

RICK KNABB:  Thank you, Judy.

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