Hurricane Matthew has left at least 122 people dead in Haiti, the country's embassy said on Thursday while suggesting the death toll could rise because some inaccessible areas have not yet been accounted for.
In addition, four people were also killed in the Dominican Republic and one each in Colombia and in the island chain of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The storm is currently in the Bahamas, where forecasters warned of "devastating impacts" from rain, wind and floods.
The storm is currently a catastrophic Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, according to a 2 p.m. ET update from the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Matthew was about 65 miles south-southeast of Freeport,the main city on Grand Bahama island. The storm also heavily impacted the capital Nassau on New Providence island — home to about 70 percent of the country's 250,000 residents.
The storm's center is expected to drop as much as 15 inches of rain and to create storm surges as high as 15 feet, with "life-threatening" surf and rip currents, the hurricane center said. The storm is expected to be near Freeport Thursday afternoon before moving to the east coast of Florida through Friday night.
Matthew was moving northwest at 14 mph as of Thursday afternoon.
Jenny Schmitt, a 34-year-old from Edmond, Okla., was attending a conference in Nassau at the Atlantis Resort when Hurricane Matthew started pounding on the island nation.
She said all guests, including her husband and 8-year-old daughter, were told on Wednesday evening to evacuate the hotel's towers. The family spent the night with a few hundred fellow guests in a conference room, where they slept on blankets, pillows and foam pads the hotel gave them.
"There was lots of snoring, lots of coughing and lots of babies crying," Schmitt told NBC News.
Schmitt told NBC News she was "pretty panicked" when the flights to get off the island were cancelled.
Eventually, though, she had accepted they were stuck for the time being.
"I can’t panic because I think it would cause my daughter to get upset. I’m telling her everything will be just fine," she said on the telephone.
Tropical storm systems typically weaken as they interact with land, but Matthew has so far refused to slow significantly — not when it slammed first into Haiti over a sparsely populated area of Cuba.
"Matthew is likely to produce devastating impacts from storm surge, extreme winds and heavy rains in the Bahamas," the National Hurricane Center predicted.
The projected path of the storm, according to the National Hurricane Center:
- Thursday afternoon: Some strengthening, with the worst conditions occurring in Nassau and New Providence. Tropical storm conditions are first expected in Florida.
- Thursday evening and Friday morning: A turn toward the north-northwest is expected as Matthew approaches Florida.
- Friday afternoon and evening: Matthew will roll near the east coast of the Florida peninsula, with central coastal Florida experiencing hurricane conditions throughout the day.
- Saturday morning: Depending on the position, coastal South Carolina or Savannah, Ga., could have strong wind and rain.
- Saturday afternoon and evening: Matthew could move eastward, with Myrtle Beach, S.C., feeling lesser impacts.
Residents in low-lying areas of southern New Providence were "strongly advised" Wednesday night to evacuate because of potential severe flooding, the National Emergency Management Agency said.
A "controlled shutdown" of electricity was planned for New Providence, Bahamas Power & Light said, adding: "Most customers will have their supply interrupted at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday."
"We will have to prepare for a worst-case scenario with respect to the impact of Hurricane Matthew," Prime Minister Perry Christie said, according to The Nassau Guardian.
The U.S. Agency for International Development said Wednesday that it would direct $1.5 million in assistance to the storm-struck Caribbean. Of that, $1 million will be food aid, and the rest will be for non-food items, like shelter, blankets, and water purification equipment.
R. David Harden, the agency's assistant administrator for humanitarian assistance, said his team of about two dozen disaster experts was making an initial assessment, noting that communications are down in most of the affected areas.
"Once the storm has fully passed, we'll be able to do a better assessment on mudslides, road conditions and the state of vulnerable people," Harden said. He added that USAID was prepared to deploy more relief supplies if necessary.