(CNN) Haiti braced for a brutal beating early this morning (Tuesday) as Hurricane Matthew slowly closed in on the Caribbean nation.
The storm packing 145-mph winds had already killed at least three people, caused cruise ships to change course and prompted the governors of Florida and North Carolina to declare states of emergency.
At 5 a.m. ET Monday, the Category 4 hurricane was plodding along at about 9 mph as the eye of the storm approached southwest Haiti, the National Weather Service said. Matthew is expected to either make landfall or skirt the Haitian coast sometime after daybreak.
Ferocious rain and wind thrashed Haiti throughout early Monday. Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency reported the coastal towns of Anse-d’Hainault and Tiburon had partially flooded. Up to 40 inches of rain could be dumped on the impoverished nation — one still recovering from a devastating earthquake that struck six years ago.
“It could make landfall at any time,” Interim Haitian President Jocelerme Privert said at a news conference. “We’ve already seen deaths. People who were out at sea. There are people who are missing. They are people who didn’t respect the alerts. They’ve lost their lives.”
As Matthew drenched Haiti with dozens of inches of rain, Cuba, the Bahamas and the United States took steps to prepare for the storm’s arrival in the coming days.
Death toll rising
Three people have died because of Hurricane Matthew within the past week, authorities said.
In Haiti, Guillaume Albert Moleon, director of communications for the Interior Ministry, said one fisherman died on Sunday. A second fisherman is presumed dead, but his body has not been recovered.
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a teenage boy died in a landslide as he was cleaning a drain behind his house, according to Michelle Forbes, deputy director for the National Emergency Management Office. The boy died Wednesday after storms from Matthew passed over the island.
The hurricane could cause further devastation for Haiti as much of the country’s infrastructure remains weak after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.
John Hasse, the humanitarian aid agency World Vision’s national director in Haiti, said 400 workers were there ready to help rural residents whose poorly constructed houses could be leveled by the storm.
“It’s not safe to stay in your house,” Laura Sewell, CARE’s assistant country director for Haiti, told CNN. “It’s not a normal rainstorm. People need to move to shelters immediately.”
The Haitian government, who has urged people to find shelters, has identified about 1,000 different facilities as temporary safe havens. The number of people who have sought refuge in shelters in the southern and west parts of Haiti now stands at more than 6,400, Civil Protection tweeted.
After the storm clears Haiti, standing water would likely continue to plague the nation, Hasse said. Haiti continues to recover from a post-quake cholera outbreak that killed another 10,000.
“That means a potential spike in cholera cases,” Hasse said. “Other mosquito-borne diseases that have been more or less controlled are going to rear their heads.”