Haiti is holding three days of national mourning for the hundreds of people killed by Hurricane Matthew last week. The US military has airlifted supplies to badly hit towns as UN soldiers work to clear roads.
In the wake of the Category 4 storm which took hundreds of lives last week, many in remote towns clustered near the southwestern tip of the country to mark the start of three days of official mourning.
Matthew had howled through Haiti's western peninsula on Tuesday with 233 kph (145 mph) winds and torrential rain that left a trail of devastation. Meteorologists downgraded Matthew on Sunday from a hurricane to a post-tropical storm.
"The days of mourning have been called to unite the country in the pain of the parents and friends of the dead," the president's office said in a statement. Night clubs and other entertainment venues were to remain closed for the mourning period, while flags were to be lowered to half-mast.
Haitian civil defense officials said Saturday 336 people had been killed, four were missing and 211 were injured in the hurricane, which struck on Tuesday and devastated wide areas of the already impoverished country.
Some reports put the death toll much higher but an exact figure has been difficult to establish as the worst-hit regions in the southwest remain cut off.
"More than 1,000 houses were flooded, hundreds completely destroyed," General Ajax Porto Pinheiro, commander of the UN stabilization mission to Haiti told reporters after flying over the affected area. "Coconut palms have been uprooted, banana plantations destroyed, it's also an environmental catastrophe."
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians in need of assistance
Most people in the area live off agriculture, meaning the storm has ruined their livelihoods. A cholera outbreak has already claimed more than a dozen lives, with government officials saying that many more remain in danger of becoming infected.
"The danger of epidemics is very high," Alexander Mauz, project coordinator for the German charity Workers' Samaritan Federation, told the DPA news agency by telephone from the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. "People have to be supplied with clean drinking water as quickly as possible."
The US military began airlifting supplies to the badly hit towns of Jeremie and Les Cayes on Saturday. Aid is also being shipped by sea with a Navy amphibious transport ship carrying heavy lift helicopters, bulldozers, freshwater delivery vehicles and two mobile surgical units.
Hurricane relief via the US government-run USAID plans to fly in 480 ton of supplies as the UN estimates 350,000 people are in need of immediate assistance. Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela have also sent aid as well as nurses and doctors to assist.
US coast hit
In the US, millions were left without power and at least 10 deaths were reported, though the storm remained offshore sparing the eastern coast from the full force of the storm. Millions of residents who evacuated the area began returning home late Saturday.
"We got really lucky," restaurant owner David Villmow in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, told The Associated Press news agency. "We could be looking at a whole lot worse. All you see are downed signs, downed fences, a few gas station sign letters missing."
Hurricane Matthew has been catalogued as the most powerful Atlantic storm since 2007. US meteorologists say the storm is projected to move near or south of the North Carolina coast.
jar/jlw,lw (AP, dpa, Reuters)