Hurricane Matthew roared across the southwestern tip of Haiti on Tuesday, uprooting trees and tearing roofs from homes in a largely rural corner of the impoverished country as the storm headed north toward Cuba and the east coast of Florida.
The dangerous Category 4 storm blew ashore around dawn in a corner of Haiti where many people live along the coast in shacks of wood or simple concrete blocks.
At least one fisherman reportedly drowned off the Haitian coast as the storm closed in, and four deaths were recorded in the neighboring Dominican Republic, bringing the hurricane's death toll in the Caribbean to at least seven.
READ MORE: Hurricane Matthew storms towards Haiti and Jamaica
Matthew has inflicted major damage across the island already, though the extent was not immediately clear, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of the country's Civil Protection Agency.
"It's much too early to know how bad things are, but we do know there are a lot of houses that have been destroyed or damaged in the south," Jean-Baptiste said.
|The dangerous Category 4 storm blew ashore around dawn in a corner of Haiti where many people live along the coast in shacks [EPA]
Many streets were flooded or blocked with fallen trees throughout the southwestern peninsula. Rivers surged with muddy water as heavy rain fell. Local radio reported that the water was shoulder high in parts of Les Cayes, close to where the storm hit shore.
Haitian authorities had tried to evacuate people from the most vulnerable areas ahead of the storm, but many were reluctant to leave their homes. Some sought shelter only after the worst was already upon them, making their way through debris-strewn streets amid pounding rain.
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"Many people are now asking for help, but it's too late because there is no way to go evacuate them," said Fonie Pierre, director of Catholic Relief Services for the Les Cayes area, who was huddled in her office with about 20 people.
Late on Tuesday, the storm moved along the Windward Passage between Haiti and Jamaica, where it dumped heavy rain that caused flooding. It is headed for southeastern Cuba and then on to the Bahamas.
The center of the storm is projected to pass about 80 km northeast of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Forecasters say Matthew could hit the US state of Florida toward the end of the week, before pushing its way up the East Coast over the weekend.
Cuba's government declared a hurricane alert for six eastern provinces, and workers removed traffic lights from poles in the city of Santiago to keep them from falling.
In the US, Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged residents along the state's Atlantic Coast to prepare for the possibility of a direct hit, and the Red Cross put out a call for volunteers in South Carolina.
Source: News Agencies