Hurricane Matthew has left behind widespread destruction across Haiti and killed hundreds in its path, and officials fear the death toll could increase as aid workers scramble to gain access to some of the country’s hardest-hit areas.
“The death toll is rising on an hourly basis,” CNN International Correspondent Shasta Darlington said. “It’s only now that we’re beginning to really understand the extent of the devastation.”
At least 300 people have died since Matthew made landfall in Haiti on Tuesday as a Category 4 hurricane, according to Paul Altidor, Haitian ambassador to the United States.
Other media outlets report much higher deaths. A count by Reuters, based on information from local civil protection officials, puts the death toll well over 800.
“We expect unfortunately that number (300) to rise a little bit as we begin to access communities, regions that were inaccessible because of the roads, because of the bridges that fell due to the hurricane,” Altidor told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Matthew struck the southwestern peninsula with 125 mph (200 kph) winds and heavy rains that flattened homes, flooded villages, razed crops, swept away cattle and cut off the parts of the island.
“Aid workers and authorities get into these really hard-hit regions where not only communication and power were knockout, but the roads were knocked out so there has really been no way in,” Darlington said.
The U.S. State Department warned citizen travelers of “serious problems concerning emergency response/medical care infrastructure and crime in Haiti,” in a statement released on Friday.
Worse still, there are warnings this could worsen the nation’s cholera epidemic, which killed at least 10,000 people after the 2010 earthquake.
“The big concern now is health, since the hurricane there have already been cases of cholera,” Darlington said.
UN officials said the hurricane is the country’s worst humanitarian crisis since the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000.
“The focus right now is getting aid to these people who were affected. So they have to get in clean water, they have to get in food and shelter,” Darlington said.