Haitians urged to evacuate tent cities as storm comes

2010-11-05 07:46

Haitian leaders urged many displaced in tent cities to evacuate yesterday as a deadly storm bore down on the quake-hit Caribbean nation, but thousands clung to their makeshift homes.

“My sisters and brothers, leave the zones that are at risk, I beg of you,” Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said in a television address, flanked by his cabinet ministers.

“There will be rain and wind throughout the country. Don’t be stubborn. Leave if you are in a fragile shelter,” he said.
Haitian authorities and non-governmental organisations were rushing to get people to safety and secure vital stocks of medicines and goods before the arrival of tropical storm Tomas.

One person was reported killed trying to cross a swollen river in a vehicle, Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-aime said.

The storm, which has already killed 14 people in Saint Lucia, is set to sweep past Haiti early today bringing heavy rains and winds, and adding more misery to the lives of 1.3 million people left homeless by January’s quake.

Refugees were being urged to seek shelter in schools and hospitals, but many fear that if they leave the overcrowded, putrid camps they will lose the only home they have as well as their few precious possessions.

“I want to stay here. I am young, I can fight against the rains. I don’t want to abandon the space where I live,” said Jean Wilford, in his 20s, as the first rains began to fall late yesterday.

A cigarette in her hand, Natacha Jean was also refusing to leave the Corail-Cesselesse camp, one of the largest in the Port-au-Prince region.

“We’re not leaving. No one can make us. We have been here for eight months, and we won’t abandon our tent,” she said.

“Where would we go? I have a child and I want to stay here.”

Although the eye of the storm is on track to miss Haiti and hit Guantanamo in southeastern Cuba, US weather experts said the outer bands of Tomas would still dump between five to 12 to 25 centimetres of rain over much of the country.

“These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides over mountainous terrain,” the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre said.

The storm was already packing winds of 85 kilometres an hour which were set to strengthen in the coming hours.

“Tomas could be near or at hurricane strength as the centre passes Haiti,” the US experts added, warning of the dangers of high waves and storm surges along the coast.

Cuba has declared an alert over the eastern part of the country in the Guantanamo and Santiago provinces, while Jamaican schools, businesses and official buildings closed yesterday hunkering down for the storm.

Haitian authorities “expect the camps to be flooded, and sanitation and hygiene materials that have been provided as part of the relief effort to be badly damaged”, Christian Aid warned.

It is yet another potential disaster for the impoverished nation, where at least 250 000 people were killed in January’s devastating 7.0 earthquake which ravaged much of the capital Port-au-Prince.

Haiti is now also struggling to contain an outbreak of cholera which hit last month and has already claimed more than 440 lives and sickened almost 6 800 people.

Tomas was set to speed up today and regain hurricane strength after roaring northwards past Haiti heading towards the Turks and Caicos islands.

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. And many Haitians live beside rivers, their main water source, and risk being swept away in storms.

International partners have raced to deliver much-needed supplies to the country, as US naval commanders ordered the USS Iwo Jima to prepare to leave for Haiti with humanitarian aid.

Christian Aid said non-governmental organisations were racing to get people and goods into shelters before the storm hits.

ACT Alliance members – a network of faith-based charities – were trying to secure camps toilets and stock up on water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts, tents, plastic sheeting and hygiene kits, it added.

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