(AP) -- Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti's southwestern tip with howling, 145 mph winds Tuesday, tearing off roofs in the poor and largely rural area, uprooting trees and leaving rivers bloated and choked with debris. At least nine deaths were blamed on the storm during its week-long march across the Caribbean.
The storm -- at one point the most powerful hurricane in the region in nearly a decade -- unloaded heavy rain as it swirled on toward Cuba and the Bahamas. Forecasters said it could hit Florida toward the end of the week and push its way up the East Coast over the weekend.
The dangerous Category 4 storm blew ashore around dawn in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, hitting a corner of Haiti where many people live in shacks of wood or concrete blocks.
Damage appeared to be widespread, but because of poor communications, blocked roads and washed-out bridges, the full extent was not immediately clear. Nor was the number of deaths.
Bishop Josias Jocelyn, St. Petersburg, has been in constant communication with his church, Santification Haitian Baptist Church in Haiti.
"All the churches and the house are down," he said.
The church in Haiti has gone from wood pillars with a roof to a slab of concrete because of the powerful hurricane.
Bishop Jocelyn has around 100 members from the Caribbean island at his St. Petersburg location.
The church, is inside the Christ United Methodist Church off 1st Avenue North.
Jocelyn said his small congregation helps support the satellite church in Haiti with donations and relief boxes of essential items.
"The main problem is six years ago we were hit and they ain't rebuild yet."
Jocelyn born in Haiti with contacts across the island.
Senior Pastor of Christ United Methodist Church was about to send old pew seats to the church in Haiti as it continues to grow -- but, now the church has been wiped out.
"But, we're prayerful and hopeful that one day these pews will be able to be used in that church," said Senior Pastor, Rev. Jacqueline Jones-Smith.
Jocelyn will meet with other Haitian church leaders Tuesday night about how to help the island.