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At least 1500 flights slashed for Matthew

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/10/2016

Airlines have cancelled over 1500 flights as Hurricane Matthew approaches landfall on the US East Coast.

Hurricane Matthew is twisting toward Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas after killing at least 26 people in Haiti's south - prompting the evacuation of about two million Americans.

FlightAware said 1594 flights had been cancelled between Wednesday and Friday, including 124 flights in the US, Bahamas and Haiti. The most affected airports were Miami (51 flights) and Nassau, Bahamas (43 flights). American Airlines cancelled the most flights (63).

The website says 1070 flights have already been cancelled in the United States for Thursday, with Miami and Fort Lauderdale in Florida the most affected. FlightAware said 400 flights had been cancelled for Friday, with the number expected to rise.

The powerful Category 3 hurricane, the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade, whipped Cuba and Haiti with 230kph winds and torrential rains on Tuesday, pummelling towns and destroying livestock, crops and homes.

In the United States, millions of people were urged to evacuate the southeastern coast and Florida Governor Rick Scott warned residents to prepare for a possible direct hit that could be catastrophic.

Millions of people have been evacuated from the path of Matthew, which caused severe flooding and killed four people in the Dominican Republic as well as at least 22 in Haiti. The two countries share the island of Hispaniola.

The storm carved a path of devastation through southwestern Haiti, dumping boats and debris on coastal roads hit by surging seas and heavily flooding residential areas.

Some 80 per cent of homes were damaged in Haiti's Sud Department, which has a population of more than 700,000, a government official said in a meeting with UN officials. Some 11,000 people were in shelters in the province.

In the town of Jeremie, people were cooking and sleeping outside because most houses were either knocked down or severely damaged, and similar scenes were reported across the coastal towns of the south.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, had been set to hold a repeatedly postponed presidential election on Sunday, but the country's electoral council delayed it again in the aftermath of Matthew. No new date has yet been set.

Matthew was downgraded early on Wednesday from a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

The storm had winds of 195kph on Wednesday afternoon, but the NHC said it could strengthen over warm waters as it approaches Florida.

"Everyone in our state must prepare now for a direct hit," Florida Governor Scott told a news conference in Tallahassee. "If Matthew directly impacts Florida, the destruction could be catastrophic and you need to be prepared."

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Haitian government estimated 350,000 people needed immediate assistance.

The death toll in Haiti included at least eight people killed by falling trees and six others swept away by swollen rivers, authorities said.

Mourad Wahba, the UN secretary-general's deputy special representative for Haiti, said the storm had triggered "the largest humanitarian event" witnessed in Haiti since the 2010 quake.

There were no immediate reports of deaths in Cuba, but Matthew devastated the picture-postcard tourist town of Baracoa, Cuba's oldest colonial settlement, in the province of Guantanamo.

The storm passed close to the US naval base and military prison in Guantanamo and was on track to plough through the central and northwestern Bahamas, the NHC forecasts showed.

Officials in the Bahamas urged residents to evacuate to higher ground and the Ministry for Grand Bahama said on Facebook that government offices in New Providence and Grand Bahama were closed until further notice.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings have been extended along a large stretch of Florida's east coast ahead of Matthew's forecast arrival there on Thursday.

Tropical storm or hurricane conditions could affect parts of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina later this week, even if the centre of Matthew remained offshore, the NHC said.

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