“The river has overflowed all around us,” church pastor Louis St. Germain said. “It’s terrible… a total disaster.”
St. Germain, who spoke to CNN on the phone from Les Cayes, Haiti, said the storm sheared off a wall of his house and tore roofs off many buildings in the area.
The “extremely dangerous” storm has already killed at least three people, caused cruise ships to change course and prompted officials to declare states of emergency.
And authorities have warned that the death toll could climb.
“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,” Interim Haitian President Jocelerme Privert said at a news conference.
Forecasters say the storm, which is moving at about 10 mph, is expected to impact eastern Cuba later Tuesday.
A threat remains in Haiti even though the eye of the storm has passed. Ferocious rain and wind were already thrashing the Caribbean nation before the storm made landfall. And forecasters said Tuesday that life-threatening flash floods and mudslides were likely.
Up to 40 inches of rain could be dumped on the impoverished nation, which is still recovering from a devastating earthquake that struck six years ago and a cholera outbreak after that.
Eyewitnesses reported streets flooding in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Forecasters predict the storm will move near eastern Cuba and over portions of the Bahamas later Tuesday.
Death toll rising
Three people have died in incidents connected to 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.
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, which 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 the country now stands at more than 6,400, Civil Protection tweeted.
“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.”
Collision course for Cuba
In Cuba, forecasters say Matthew could dump up to 20 inches of rain in some isolated parts of the country.
The United States, taking no chances, began to airlift 700 family members of military personnel stationed at Guantanamo Bay to Florida this weekend. Essential military personnel and 61 detainees — held by the United States as alleged enemy combatants — will not be evacuated, officials added.
The US government issued a travel advisory warning Americans in Cuba to find immediate shelter if they haven’t already made travel plans.
From there, Matthew is expected to take a “prolonged trip” toward the Bahamas that’s expected to last through Wednesday night. It would then turn toward the US while losing some of its strength, dropping down to a Category 3 with 120 mph winds.
Journalist Yvetot Gouin and CNN’s Deborah Bloom, Alexander Leininger, Holly Yan, Steve Visser, Ralph Ellis, Radina Gigova, Faith Karimi, Joe Sterling, Joe Sutton, Patrick Oppmann, Salim Essaid, Michael Holmes, Lindy Royce and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.