CROIX-DES-BOUQUETS, Haiti, (Reuters) – Angry earthquake survivors in Haiti disrupted an attempted evacuation today of a resettlement camp as Tropical Storm Tomas bore down on the poor Caribbean country already reeling from a cholera epidemic and destruction from the quake.
Tomas was expected to hit Haiti tonight, battering the stark and largely deforested land with gusting wind, surging waves and torrential rains of up to 10 or 15 inches (25-38 cm) in some areas.
President Rene Preval went on national radio to urge citizens to take precautions and follow evacuation recommendations. “Protect your lives,” he said.
An effort to move some 2,000 people from Corail, an exposed camp outside Port-au-Prince set up by the United Nations and aid groups to resettle homeless quake survivors, was obstructed by camp dwellers worried that authorities were trying to permanently move them out.
More than 100 yelling youths broke tables set up by aid workers to process the evacuees from the tent and tarpaulin camp of some 7,700 people located at the base of several bare hills outside of the Haitian capital.
Aid workers say the camp’s location at the confluence of several streams makes it particularly vulnerable to flooding.
“We are upset because they have not told us where we are going,” said Domarcand Fenel, the head of a committee of camp residents. “People believe they want to expel us.”
About 1.3 million survivors of the Jan. 12 quake that killed more than a quarter of a million people in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation are still living in makeshift camps crammed into open spaces in the capital.
“The big fear is for people on exposed mountains. These people are at high risk of landslides and flash flooding,” said Leonard Doyle, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, referring to the Corail camp residents.
He said aid workers were trying to better explain the evacuation to people in Corail. “It’s a communications problem. Emotions are high because a storm is coming,” Doyle said.
DEATHS IN ST. LUCIA
Tomas is expected to bring surging waves, heavy rains and possible flash flooding and mudslides to mountainous Haiti, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), the Miami-based hurricane center said Tomas was packing top sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (85 kph) and located about 295 miles (475 km) west-southwest of Port-au-Prince.
Tomas swept across the Caribbean’s eastern islands as a hurricane over the weekend, killing at least five people in St. Lucia before weakening. Several more people were missing.
It was expected to pass near Jamaica and Haiti within a matter of hours and hurricane warnings were in effect for Haiti, the Turks and Caicos Islands and parts of the Bahamas and Cuba.
The Haitian government ordered all schools closed today and tomorrow. In Jamaica, where Tropical Storm Nicole killed 15 people more than a month ago, schools were also closed in the capital of Kingston and some eastern parishes.
Around 20 camps in the densely populated Cite Soleil slum in Haiti’s capital are at particular risk because the neighborhood sits at sea level, Doyle said.
The government is urging people in areas prone to flooding to seek refuge with friends or family ahead of the storm. Officials fear hundreds of thousands of people living in the quake survivors’ camps are vulnerable to winds and rain.
The United Nations says the storm will almost certainly exacerbate a cholera epidemic that has so far killed 442 people and sickened more than 6,700, according to government figures.
With the storm threat and the spreading epidemic, Haiti faces major disruption less than a month before Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections. Electoral officials have not moved to postpone the vote.