Residents wait on the shore as a boat with water and food from the "Mission of Hope" charity arrives after Hurricane Matthew swept through Jeremie, Haiti

Haiti has begun three days of mourning as aid efforts to help the Hurricane Matthew-hit country were stepped up.

After being hampered by the giant storm straddling the US eastern seaboard for days, the international response to the devastation on Haiti has finally begun in earnest.

At least 900 people are believed to have died on the Caribbean island, tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed and some 350,000 people need aid.

Locals packed onto the coast over the weekend as they waited desperately for a 50-tonne barge from charity Mission of Hope, laden with essential food, water and medical supplies, to arrive.

The one usable airstrip in the country is too small for big cargo planes and can only operate during daytime.

900 pople have been killed in Hurricane Matthew in Haiti A woman tries to get food at a shelter in the school Liliane Mars Dumarsais Estime after Hurricane Matthew

The death toll was expected to rise further still over the coming days as flood waters clear to reveal the bodies of those whose lives they claimed.

And medics are preparing to battle outbreaks of deadly cholera brought on by the flooding and lack of clean drinking water.

Around a dozen deaths have so far been reported from cholera and more than 60 others have contracted the disease, Haiti’s health ministry said.

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And Christian Aid described the situation as “critical” – and was likely to remain so for some time. Around 10,000 people have died in Haiti from cholera since an earthquake in 2010 hit the island.

Prospery Raymond, from Christian Aid, said: “The population are really in need of water, shelter, materials. This emergency is very, very critical.”

Britain is giving £5m to the initial aid effort while charities are running their own fundraising campaigns.

Barcroft Clean up continues in Jeremie, Haiti Barcroft People walk along a street in downtown Jeremie Haiti

UNICEF warned in a report: “Information gathered from various sources in the field suggests that the human toll (dead and injured) will be heavier than the current official figures.”

Matthew, which hit Haiti as a Category Four hurricane last Tuesday, was downgraded to a ‘post-tropical cyclone’ yesterday soon after it struck the US mainland for the first time.

It whipped into North Carolina and Virginia with a diminished yet still powerful punch, causing flooding and widespread power outages.