A slightly weakened Hurricane Matthew continued its march Wednesday towards the Bahamas and the south-east United States after pummelling eastern Cuba as well as Haiti, which was forced to postpone presidential elections because of the storm.
Matthew, now a category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 195 kilometres per hour, was located 165 kilometres south of Long Island, Bahamas, as of 2 pm (1800 GMT), according to the US National Hurricane Center.
Currently moving north-west at 19 kph, the storm is expected to strengthen in the coming days. Forecasters predict the hurricane will travel over the Bahamas on Thursday and then approach the US state of Florida Thursday evening.
A hurricane watch is in effect for parts of Florida, and the governor has declared a state of emergency.
"This is a serious storm," US President Barack Obama said Wednesday said after meeting officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Washington.
Obama noted that Matthew had "already hit Haiti with devastating effect" and "is going to be building strength on its way to Florida" because it would be travelling primarily over the ocean.
American Airlines announced Wednesday that it would be cancelling most flights in and out Miami, Ft Lauderdale and Palm Beach, on Thursday.
Other south-eastern US states, including Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina announced emergency preparations.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency late Tuesday, and called for the evacuation of coastal communities.
On Haiti there were reports of washed out bridges, including a vital link to the south-west part of the island, and roads rendered impassable by floodwaters and downed trees.
"The storm ripped off roofs, teared down electricity posts, a lot of people were looking for shelter in churches and schools," Doris Wasmeier, a German visitor in Port au Prince, told dpa.
"We don't know how the situation in the south is. Communication has broken down and the most important bridge came down. The region is totally cut off," said Wasmeier, who previously worked for the Caritas aid organization after Haiti's 2010 earthquake.
John Hasse, Haiti director of World Vision, said they expected the hurricane to have affected "well over a million to even millions of people" in Haiti.
"We’re anticipating large amounts of damage in the south of the country. We’re seeing enormous amounts of flooding, enormous amounts of wind damage. We’ve been seeing pictures and have heard about people trying to cross high rivers," he said.
Haitian election officials announced Wednesday that presidential elections planned for Sunday had been postponed due to the storm.
The results of the last election were annulled amid allegations of vote manipulation. Previous president Michel Martelly left office in February without a successor. Since then Jocelerme Privert has served as interim president.
USAID official David Harden said Wednesday that the US was working with local authorities to provide clean water and sanitation to mitigate against an outbreak of cholera.
The US also announced an additional 1 million dollars in hurricane relief aid to the island nation.
The mayor of the Haitian town of Cavaillon reported at least four deaths and "thousands" of destroyed homes.
Four deaths were also reported in the Dominican Republic, according to the Miami Herald.
At least three other deaths - one each in Haiti, Colombia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines - have been connected to the hurricane, according to local officials and media reports.
On Cuba, CNN reported homes being washed away in the north-eastern Cuban town of Baracoa.
Matthew strengthened into a hurricane last week and then briefly intensified into a Category 5 storm at the weekend, becoming the strongest in the Atlantic since 2007.
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