In Haiti, Slow Revelations About The Scale Of Hurricane Destruction

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People help each other across the river La Digue in Petit Goave, Haiti, on Wednesday, a day after Hurricane Matthew raked the island nation.

Updated at 9:10 p.m. ET

The wind ripped roofs off buildings. It flattened trees. It snapped power poles.

The rain, in some places more than 2 feet of it, washed out bridges and flooded entire communities, cutting people off as it overwhelmed their homes.

And at least 283 people in Haiti have died as a result of Hurricane Matthew, according to the Interior minister, who was quoted by the Associated Press.

Two days after the storm made landfall in southwestern Haiti as a Category 4 hurricane, the extent of the destruction in the hardest hit parts of the country is still unclear, NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

"Communication out of [the southwest] has been really difficult because many of the cell towers went down, and many people just don't have electricity," Beaubien reports. "In Jeremie we're hearing that nearly all the roofs have been ripped off of buildings."

Aid groups in Haiti estimate a million people have been affected in the southern part of the country, and in some towns there are reports that at least 80 percent of the homes were destroyed.

In the capital, a main priority is repairing a bridge that collapsed on National Route 2, which is the only road linking the capital to the southwest, according to a spokesman for the civil protection service.

Until the bridge is repaired, the main way for supplies and relief workers to get from Port-au-Prince to the areas that took the brunt of the storm's force is by helicopter or ship.

Haiti's de facto president, Jocelerme Privert, flew over the southern part of the country on a U.S. Coast Guard plane with the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Peter Mulrean, on Wednesday.

"One of the key things that came out of that flyover ... was that they need to identify where they can even get in and land helicopters," says Beaubien.

U.N. peacekeepers who had already been stationed in Haiti spent Wednesday trying to clear local roads around the capital, he reports. The U.S. Navy has dispatched three vessels, including the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, to help with the relief effort in the Caribbean.

Among the buildings damaged or destroyed by the Hurricane were some that were to serve as polling places in Haiti's long-delayed presidential election, which had been scheduled for Sunday, according to the head of Haiti's provincial electoral council.

On Wednesday, the council announced the vote would be postponed and did not say when it would be rescheduled.

Amidst the flooding, the specter of a spike in cholera cases has aid organizations worried that the physical destruction of buildings could be just the beginning of Matthew's deadly effects in Haiti. The waterborne disease has killed thousands of people since it was introduced in Haiti by U.N. workers in 2010.

"A lot of our assistance is going to focus on water and sanitation, which is probably the primary means of inhibiting the spread of cholera," Dave Harden of the U.S. Agency for International Development told reporters on Wednesday. "We will also get plastic sheeting and shelter kits out there available as needed to the most vulnerable people, and this too will help create a hygienic environment."

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, other island nations were also assessing the damage from Hurricane Matthew. Images from the Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbor to the east, images showed streets flooded and neighborhoods underwater.

In Cuba, the National Hurricane Center said as much as 20 inches of rain had fallen in some eastern areas, and warned that "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides are likely in central and eastern Cuba."

In the Bahamas, high winds and torrential rain battered Nassau on Wednesday. The National Hurricane Center said Thursday morning that a hurricane warning was in effect for the central and northwestern Bahamas, and that the outer bands of the storm were already approaching Florida.

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