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Hurricane Tomas moves north after killing six in Haiti

by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Nov 6, 2010
Hurricane Tomas moved toward the Turks and Caicos Islands early Saturday after killing six people in Haiti and lashing the poorest country of the hemisphere with fierce winds and rain.

But it appeared to have spared the hundreds of thousands of Haitians 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.

"All departures and arrivals at Toussaint Louverture airport (in Port-au-Prince) are cancelled. Normal traffic will resume on Saturday," airport authorities said in a statement.

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 US State Department quoted Haiti's Department of Civil Protection as estimating that 50 percent of the people living in resettlement camps "did leave of their own accord" to safer housing.

The center of category one Tomas was north of Haiti early Saturday, and a hurricane warning for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was downgraded to a tropical storm warning, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The storm, packing maximum winds of 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour, was heading toward Turks and Caicos islands at 20 kilometers (13 miles) per hour.

The broad storm front, however, was still dumping rain on the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, parts of which could see five to 10 inches (12.5 to 25 centimeters) of rain, the NHC warned, with 15 inches (38 centimeters) in isolated spots.

"These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides over mountainous terrain," it added.

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, 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 US 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.




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SHAKE AND BLOW
Hundreds of thousands vulnerable as Tomas lashes Haiti
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Nov 5, 2010
Hurricane Tomas lashed Haiti with fierce winds and rain Friday, leaving three people dead in flooding and threatening hundreds of thousands people hunkered down in flimsy canvas tent camps. Although officials had urged mass evacuations, with the risk of mudslides and flooding from torrential downpours, many clung to their make-shift homes and their few prized possessions as they had no where ... read more

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