Hurricane Tomas leaves 4 dead in Haiti

Hurricane Tomas left four people dead in Haiti on Friday, bringing heavy rain to the earthquake-damaged Caribbean nation.
People wade through a flooded street during the passing of Hurricane Tomas in Leogane, Haiti, on Friday. ((Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press))
Hurricane Tomas lashed Haiti on Friday, bringing heavy rain to the island nation struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake earlier this year that left more than one million people living in temporary shelters and camps.

At least four deaths were confirmed. The four died while trying to cross rivers by car or on foot in the mountainous area west of Leogane, in the country's southwestern tip. Two other people were reported missing in Leogane.

The storm hit Haiti's rural western tip hard, flooding the refugee-camp homes of quake survivors. In one camp, families carried possessions through thigh-deep water to get to higher ground.

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

Tomas hit Haiti as a Category 1 hurricane, after it was upgraded from tropical storm status Friday morning.

After making landfall in Haiti's southern peninsula, Tomas moved up the rest of the country, and also hit eastern Cuba and the Bahamas.

As of 11 p.m. ET, the hurricane's centre was about 55 kilometres southeast of Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas, and was moving to the northeast.

Reluctance to seek shelter

Authorities had urged people living under tarps and in tents to seek safer shelter, but many of the displaced say they have nowhere else to go. Others decided to stay in the camps out of fear they would lose their few possessions or be denied permission to return when the storm was over.

An earthquake survivor walks in the rain early Friday morning in a provisional camp in downtown Port-au-Prince. ((Eduardo Munoz/Reuters) )

Nigel Fisher, the United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator in Haiti, said those who choose to stay in camps in Port-au-Prince are vulnerable, even though the brunt of the storm is not expected to hit the city.

"We'll have rains today, quite heavy, so we expect some damage," he said.

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 on them.

"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 the little she makes selling uncooked rice, beans and dry goods.

"I was talking to one mom earlier today who just had a newborn baby, three days old," said Sarah Jacobs, who works with the aid agency Save the Children. "She was extremely scared, she was showing me where water would come through the top of her tent, even when there was a mild shower."

Jacobs said the tents and shelters in camps that house an estimated 1.3 million people are "absolutely not hurricane proof."

Karen Robinson, the head of hurricane preparedness for World Vision in Haiti, said that many people are still scared to spend time in some buildings after watching so many structures crumble during the massive earthquake.

Robinson said World Vision has been encouraging people to leave the camps, but she said they are asking people who choose to stay to try and tie down temporary shelters and dig canals around tents.

The United Nations and relief organizations have been reaching out to donors to try and secure additional supplies. There are also concerns the hurricane could lead to more cases of cholera if flooding contaminates water supplies.

With files from The Associated Press