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Haiti Braced For Direct Hit From Hurricane Matthew

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Haiti, Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the western part of the country, bringing heavy winds and rain. It is the strongest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. With sustained winds of 145 miles per hour, it's expected to drop as much as 3 feet of rain in some areas. For an update on current conditions there, we reached Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Good morning.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, you are out on the streets of the capital. What are you seeing?

CHARLES: Well, there's some parts of the capital that are already starting to flood. And essentially, the streets are like a ghost town. But there are people out. And believe it or not, there are merchants who are out, who are starting to do their trade. Well, we're expecting this weather to start to deteriorate very soon, and they will start to feel even more of the brunt of this storm. I can tell you that early this morning, this storm was not letting up. You were hearing it; you were feeling. And then now there's a little bit, you know, calm to it. But we are expecting in Port-au-Prince to also start to feel it once again.

MONTAGNE: Many people live along the coasts there in Haiti, some in homes built of corrugated steel - fragile, fragile structures. What are they doing to reinforce their homes? I mean, so far, are people able to stay in their homes, or are they fleeing?

CHARLES: No, people were actually fleeing in some parts of the country in the middle of the night when they realized how serious this storm was. And that's where we're getting a lot of the reports on the damage in the coastal communities. There are a lot of communities that are underwater. The sea is going into people's homes. The roofs have blown off. Even here in the capital, there's a shanty town, Cite Soleil, the biggest shanty town in Haiti - I was there yesterday. People said to me they wanted to leave, but they didn't have the means to do so. They didn't have the transportation to do so. And in the middle of the night, some of those people, they actually fled to higher ground because they live very close to the ocean.

MONTAGNE: Well, Haiti, of course, has been devastated by natural causes before, time and time again. And tens of thousands of people, I gather, still in tents after the 2010 earthquakes. What is happening with them?

CHARLES: Exactly. There's about 60,000 people who are still living in tents after the earthquake. And they've had to basically bare this storm out. I mean, there were shelters that were open in Port-au-Prince, but I can tell you that late yesterday, there were only 150 people who were actually in shelters in Port-au-Prince.

It's going to be very interesting to see if in the night more people went into the shelters. People are just reluctant to leave their homes, whatever means - little means that they have. And that has been the struggle here with the authorities is convincing people if you live in a situation that is flood prone, that is not safe, that is in a high-risk area, leave. But a lot of people did not want to do that.

MONTAGNE: Well, you made a crack on your Twitter feed about the fact that flooding there was a good excuse for officials not to go to work today. I'm wondering, you know, if that is suggestive of how authorities are handling this, as in maybe not so well.

CHARLES: Well, the problem is there's a central government - the main government - there's a transitional government in power today. And they are cash-strapped. There's an election that's supposed to take place on Sunday that cost $55 million. The Senate has not voted a budget. The central government says, listen, we have to seriously cut our expenses in order to try to cobble up whatever we can for aid for the hurricane, for supplies. The international aid that was there in the past, it has not been there this time around. As a result, there is very little cash to go around.

MONTAGNE: Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles, speaking to us from the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Well, thank you for joining us, and you take care.

CHARLES: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.