Hurricane Matthew hit Nassau in the Bahamas on Thursday with 140 mph winds and even higher gusts, as it marched across the Caribbean nation with a punishing storm surge and torrential rain that left the capital city in a watery darkness.
“We got hit very, very hard,’’ said Bishop Walter Hanchell, a minister in one of the city’s impoverished communities. “People are stuck in their homes, trees are down, roofs are down, and we are still under the gun for another hour and a half.’’
Hanchell, who spoke to the Miami Herald by phone about 1 p.m. Thursday, said it wasn’t clear whether there were any casualties, but he did fear that many people lost everything, their homes, their cars and all their belongings. His agency, Great Commission Ministries International, distributes food to the island’s poor.
His parishioners were calling him in panic, begging to be rescued from their flooded homes. But no one is able to get out since roads are impassable, and electric lines and trees are down everywhere. He said one man was stranded on top of a dresser in his home which was flooded by seven feet of water.
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“We will need more food and more water,’’ said Hanchell, who has lived all of his 60 years on the island, never having experienced such a massive cyclone.
New Providence, the Bahamas’ most populous island with about 80 percent of the nation’s citizens has not had a major hurricane since 1929.
Meteorologists expected storm surges in the Bahamas as high as 15 feet, along with intense rains and damaging, “life-threatening’’ surf conditions. Prime Minister Perry Christie warned that Matthew had the potential to be "violently unpredictable."
Ports and airports were closed and cruise ships were diverted away from the islands. Tourists who were stranded rushed to find safe ground Thursday. The country’s tourism-dependent economy was bracing for major losses.
The worst damage was reported on Long Island, Great Exuma and some smaller islands, but the storm escalated Thursday afternoon as it hit New Providence.
At 11 a.m. the eye of the hurricane was moving moving toward the northwest between Andros Island and Nassau, according to the National Hurricane Center. This track is expected to continue Thursday afternoon, with a turn toward the north-northwest tonight or early Friday.
Forecasters predict Matthew will cross the northwestern Bahamas Thursday night and move close to or over the east coast of Florida. Reports from an Air Fore plane recorded sustained winds at 140 mph, but additional strengthening in possible, the hurricane service said.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles from the eye and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 160 miles.
The heaviest and most prolonged rain, however, is expected near Freeport, where officials were projecting downpours of up to 15 inches. Accu-Weather reported that a devastating storm surge of 12-15 feet is likely.
Bahamas Power and Light (BPL), was activating controlled power shutdowns and New Providence was expected to be without electricity for the duration of the storm, officials said.
Geneva Cooper, senior director of hotel licensing, said officials at the Ministry of Tourism estimate roughly $1.8 million in lost revenue, as she announced that all cruise lines due to arrive in the country have been diverted to “other destinations” in anticipation of the category four storm.
The report was supplemented with material from the Nassau Guardian and Tribune242.