Tomas soaks quake homeless camps as it passes Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Reuters) – Hurricane Tomas soaked crowded  Haitian earthquake survivors’ camps with overnight rain as the  re-strengthened storm headed north today between Cuba and Haiti  amid fears of flooding and landslides.

One person died overnight trying to cross a river in the  Grande-Anse region southwest of the capital and some flooding was  reported in the south coast town of Les Cayes, Alta Jean-Baptiste,  Haiti’s civil protection director, said.
In the capital Port-au-Prince, still scarred from a devastating  Jan. 12 earthquake, hundreds of thousands of homeless quake survivors  spent the night under rain-drenched tent and tarpaulin shelters in  muddy encampments. The quake killed more than a quarter of a million  people.
With the passage of Tomas, the United Nations and relief agencies  have gone on maximum alert to prepare for the risk of another  humanitarian catastrophe in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation,  which is already reeling from a deadly cholera epidemic on top of the  widespread quake destruction.

But there were no immediate reports of serious storm destruction  or major casualties.

“We have escaped pretty lightly so far. It’s not as bad as we had  feared,” Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organization  for Migration  said after receiving reports from field offices in  different parts of the country.

Out of the 1.3 million quake survivors in the capital’s temporary  camps, only some were able to evacuate to more secure structures with  family or friends, or in schools or government shelters.

Wind from Tomas blew over some tents at camps for displaced  people in the southern coastal city at Jacmel and swollen seas caused  a limited amount of flooding on the south coast, the government and  aid workers said.
At 11 a.m. (1500 GMT), Tomas was moving northeastward to the west  of Haiti, about 140 miles (230 km) from Port-au-Prince, packing top  sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (140 kph), the U.S. National  Hurricane Center said.

It had earlier re-intensified over the Caribbean sea into a  Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, heading  on a track that would take it near or over eastern Cuba, the Turks  and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas.


In the capital, Haitians long used to harsh tropical weather were  shrugging off the overnight rain.

“It rained but it was a normal night and I slept,” said ice cream  seller Zaporte N’Zanou, who passed the night in a tent in the big  Champs de Mars quake survivors’ camp in front of the wrecked  presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.

But forecasters were still warned heavy rainfall from Tomas could  produce flash flooding and life-threatening mudslides in Haiti, where  massive deforestation — caused largely by impoverished peasants  cutting firewood for decades — has left hills and mountains bare and  eroded.

Rains, floods and mudslides from tropical storms and hurricanes  in 2004 and 2008 killed several thousand people in Haiti, especially  in the northwest coastal city of Gonaives.

Yesterday, hours before the approach of Tomas, Haitian  President Rene Preval went on national radio to urge citizens to take  precautions and follow evacuation recommendations.

With the storm threat and the spreading cholera 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.
Camp dwellers had hunkered down for a miserable night as rain  fell steadily. “We haven’t taken precautions. We are in God’s hands,”  said Ave Lise Mesila, in her tarpaulin tent.

The United Nations said the storm almost certainly will  exacerbate a cholera epidemic that has killed 442 people and sickened  more than 6,700 so far.
Tomas swept across the Caribbean’s eastern islands as a hurricane  last weekend, killing at least five people in St. Lucia. Several more  people were missing.

At the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in east Cuba, officials  warned the 174 foreign captives detained there a storm was on the way.

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