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Hurricane Tomas Menaces Quake-Stricken Haiti

A woman walks under a cover in Martissant, a slum area near Port-au-Prince, on Friday as heavy rains from Hurricane Tomas lashed Haiti.
Thony Belizaire
AFP/Getty Images
A woman walks under a cover in Martissant, a slum area near Port-au-Prince, on Friday as heavy rains from Hurricane Tomas lashed Haiti.

Hurricane Tomas flooded camps of earthquake refugees, turning some into squalid islands Friday as it battered Haiti's rural western tip, while largely sparing the vast homeless encampments in the shattered capital.

Driving winds and storm surge from the Category 1 hurricane battered the coastal city of Leogane, which was nearly destroyed by the magnitude-7 earthquake on Jan. 12 that killed nearly a quarter of a million people in Haiti.

Dozens of families in one earthquake-refuge camp took their belongings through thigh-high water to a taxi post on high ground, waiting out the rest of the storm under blankets and a sign that read "Welcome to Leogane."


"We got flooded out and we're just waiting for the storm to pass. There's nothing we can do," said Johnny Joseph, a 20-year-old resident.

The cities of Jeremie and Les Cayes in the western tip of Haiti's southern peninsula also were hit by Tomas.

But preliminary reports from some aid agencies suggested that the storm's impact may be not be as great as first feared.

Matthew Cochrane, a spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, said while there's been "reasonably extensive flooding" in and around Leogane in the direct line of the storm, the affected areas were already prone to flooding.

"While it's obviously a very difficult situation, particularly for a lot of people living in camps, it's not a remarkable situation," he told NPR by telephone from the capital.


"There's a lot of assessment that still needs to be done," Cochrane said. "But so far, I think the sense certainly within the Red Cross and the wider humanitarian community is that it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been."

As of Friday afternoon, the storm's center was just 140 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince and 190 miles southwest of Mayaguana in the Turks and Caicos islands. It was moving north-northeast at 12 mph with winds of 85 mph.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami say it is the rain, not the winds, that worry them most about the safety of those in Haiti's earthquake camps. They also warned of a dangerous storm surge that could generate "large and destructive waves" and raise water levels up to 3 feet above normal tide levels.

Rainfall of 5 to 10 inches was forecast for much of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola. Hurricane warnings were in effect for the southeastern Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, and the Cuban province of Guantanamo.

Despite government warnings, most of the 1.3 million residents of Haiti's earthquake camps refused to leave their makeshift homes as the storm bore down on the deforested and flood-prone nation.

Haiti's civil protection department had urged people to go to the homes of friends and family. By Thursday evening, it was clear most camp residents were not heeding the advice. People in the yard of a high school on the Delmas 33 thoroughfare said their camp's governing committee had passed along the official advice to leave, but they decided to stockpile water and tie down their tents instead.

Buses began circulating around the camps just after dark Thursday night to take residents away, but few were willing to go. Four civil protection buses that pulled up at a camp in the Canape-Vert district left with about five passengers.

Many camp residents stayed put out of fear they would lose their few possessions and, worse, be denied permission to return when the storm was over.

"I'm scared that if I leave they'll tear this whole place down. I don't have money to pay for a home somewhere else," said Clarice Napoux, 21, who lives with her boyfriend on a soccer field behind the St. Therese church in Petionville. They lost their house to the quake and their only income is what she can make selling uncooked rice, beans and dry goods.

Haitian radio, citing the Interior Ministry, reported that a man drowned in the far-western department of Grand-Anse while attempting to drive through a swollen river. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Gary Shaye, country director for Save the Children, an international non-governmental organization working in Haiti, said with the earthquake, a growing cholera epidemic and now Hurricane Tomas, the island nation faces "a triple threat."

"The storm has the potential to destroy tents and flood camps, wrecking possessions and leaving families more exposed and homeless once again," Shaye said.

With reporting from NPR's Jason Beaubien in Port-au-Prince and Phil Latzman in Miami. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story

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