Hurricane Tomas regained strength as it moved northward on Saturday, a day after battering seaside towns in Haiti and leaving eight people dead.

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A man carries a child across a flooded street during the passing of Hurricane Tomas in Léogâne on Friday. ((Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press) )

After being downgraded Saturday morning to tropical storm status, Tomas was back up to hurricane strength by Saturday evening with winds of 130 km/h. At 8 p.m. ET, the storm's centre was 415 kilometres north-northeast of Grand Turk Island and heading to the north-northeast in open water.

All storm watches and warnings have been cancelled.

The storm spared most of Haiti a direct hit, but floodwaters killed eight people as Tomas came ashore Friday in the country's southwestern tip. Most the victims died as they tried to cross rain-swollen rivers.

Earthquake-refugee camps around the capital, Port-au-Prince, escaped the worst of the storm. It hit hardest to the west in the seaside town of Léogâne, which was virtually flattened in last January's quake, which left 250,000 people dead.

There are now concerns the deluge of rain could help spread cholera via pools of dirty, stagnant water. The waterborne disease is already blamed for more than 400 deaths in recent weeks.

It could be days before the storm's impact is known, as reports have only begun to filter in from isolated mountain towns cut off by the flooding.

But as officials took stock and aid workers rushed to contain flood damage and a widening cholera outbreak, Tomas left harsh reminders of poverty's toll on the Caribbean country.

"We have two catastrophes that we are managing. The first is the hurricane and the second is cholera," President René Préval said in a television and radio address.

He could have included a third: the scores of collapsed buildings and sprawling refugee camps that still dominate the landscape 10 months after a magnitude-7 earthquake turned the capital into rubble.

Haitian authorities had urged many of the 1.3 million people left homeless by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince to leave the refugee camps and go to the homes of friends and family. Buses were sent to take those who wanted to move to shelters.

But many chose to stay in the camps' donated plastic tarps out of fear that if they didn't, they would be permanently evicted from the private land where they have been camped out since the quake. They also feared losing their few possessions.

With files from The Associated Press