The Vancouver Sun: Tomas lashes Haiti leaving 6 dead


A man observes flowing water near Port-au-Prince on November 5, 2010. Photograph by: Thony BELIZAIRE, AFP/Getty Images


PORT-AU-PRINCE – Hurricane Tomas lashed Haiti with fierce winds and rain Friday, leaving six people dead. But it appeared to have spared the hundreds of thousands of people who rode out the storm in flimsy tent camps.

Rains continued off and on for hours after the storm moved on to Cuba, and flooding cut off some parts of the country while authorities warned of the heightened risk of mudslides.

The southern town of Leogane was completely under water, said Philippe Joseph, a civil defense official, who said water was three meters (10 feet) deep in parts of the town.

“We are going to have more victims because of the floods and mudslides, but we cannot yet reach the communities most affected,” he told AFP.

In Port-au-Prince, Haitians were up to their ankles in water in some of the huge refugee camps that have grown up around the city since a devastating earthquake that killed 250,000 people in January.

But the canvas and tarpaulin shelters that hundreds of thousands of people call home appeared to have withstood the storm better than expected, thanks to pre-storm preparations, including hastily dug drainage ditches and sandbag barriers.

“So fortunately for them we can say that they appear to have made it through,” Andrea Koppel of the American Red Cross told CNN.

However, six people were reported killed in floods and house collapses elsewhere in Haiti.

Two of the dead were in Leogane, two more died in the towns of Beaumont and de Leon near the city of Jeremie, and a fifth died in the town of Anglais, Haitian media reported.

A sixth person was reported killed Thursday before the storm hit as he tried to cross a rain-swollen river in a vehicle in Grande Anse.

Many smaller towns in western Haiti were cut off from the outside world after flooding damaged already neglected roads in rural areas that were difficult to pass in good weather.

The government said it had taken steps to accommodate as many as 100,000 people in schools, churches and hospitals — a fraction of the 1.3 million left homeless by January’s earthquake.

The U.S. State Department quoted Haiti’s Department of Civil Protection as estimating that 50 per cent of the people living in resettlement camps “did leave of their own accord” to safer housing.

The center of category one Tomas passed Cuba’s easternmost tip on Friday, and a hurricane warning for Guantanamo was downgraded to a tropical storm warning, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said at 2100 GMT.

The storm was bearing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour.

Haiti and parts of the neighboring Dominican Republic, however, could see five to 10 inches (12.5 to 25 centimeters) of rain, the NHC warned, with 15 inches (38 centimeters) in isolated spots and with rains that “could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides over mountainous terrain.

Tomas threatened further havoc in impoverished Haiti just as it battles a growing cholera outbreak that has killed 442 people.

“Dangerous landslides and heavy flooding could still worsen the cholera epidemic. Remain vigilant,” urged President Rene Preval, saying a massive aid distribution effort was being prepared once “the situation on the roads will permit.”

Much of Haiti’s population of just under 10 million people live in precarious conditions, vulnerable to natural disasters. Mountainsides have been stripped of trees to be used as fuel, increasing the risk of landslides in wet weather.

Tomas killed 14 people in Saint Lucia, then weakened to a tropical depression earlier this week before it gained a second life.

In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, 8,400 people had to be evacuated from their homes across the country due to flooding and mudslides caused by Tomas.

The naval amphibious ship USS Iwo Jima was prepared to move into the country to provide assistance after Tomas has passed, with is fleet of 10 helicopters and specialized emergency teams, said mission head Captain Thomas Negus.

The U.S. State Department said a 22-member Disaster Assistance Response Team has been deployed to Haiti, in addition to military personnel already providing relief in the country since the January earthquake.

Hurricane warnings were posted for the Turks and Caicos, which were staring at the potential of a direct hit later Friday.

© Copyright (c) AFP

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