Jeremie, Oct 8: The full scale of the devastation in hurricane-hit rural Haiti became clear today as the death toll surged past 400, three days after Hurricane Matthew leveled huge swaths of the country's south.
As Matthew threatened the US coast, President Barack Obama urged Americans to mobilize in support of Haiti, where a million people were in need of assistance after the latest disaster to strike the western hemisphere's poorest nation.
While the capital and biggest city, Port-au-Prince, was largely spared, the south suffered devastation. Aerial footage from the hardest-hit towns showed a ruined landscape of metal shanties with roofs blown away and downed trees everywhere.
Brown mud from overflowing rivers covered the ground. Herve Fourcand, a senator for the Sud department, which felt the full force of Matthew, said several localities were still cut off by flooding and mudslides. A scene of desolation greeted visitors to Jeremie, a town of 30,000 people left inaccessible until Friday.
With power lines down, people have been cut off from communications since the storm struck Tuesday -- and had yet to hear that a presidential election due to take place this weekend has been postponed. Virtually all the town's corrugated-iron homes have been destroyed, with only a few concrete buildings left standing.
"It was as if someone had a remote control and just kept turning the wind up higher and higher," said Carmine Luc, a 22-year-old woman. "When the roof of my house blew off, I clung to a wall with my left hand, and with my right, I held on with all my strength to my three-year-old child -- who was screaming," she said.
A ship carrying nine containers of food and medical supplies was headed for Dame Marie, further west in Grand'Anse department.
"It's probably the hardest hit department and the conditions don't allow for a helicopter to land there," Interior Minister Francois Anick Joseph told AFP.
"So we're doing our best to help those affected." Convoys were headed to other affected areas by land, sea and air, he said, including two helicopters provided by the US military to transport 50 tonnes of water, food and medicine elsewhere in Grand'Anse.
Further south, Haiti's third-largest town of Les Cayes was battered, its Sous-Roches district turned from a quiet beachfront neighborhood to a chaos of mud and shattered trees.
The river level has begun to drop, but its waters are still mixed with the storm surge that inundated the beach during the Category Four hurricane's hours-long assault on Tuesday.
"I thought I was going to die. I looked death in the face," said 36-year-old Yolette Cazenor, standing in front of a house smashed in two by a fallen coconut palm tree.