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Storm-battered Haiti cleans up Tomas wreckage

In this image released by the US Navy Visual News Service November 6, 2010 shows an aerial photo taken from a reconnaissance flight from the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) shows damage caused by Hurricane Tomas in Haiti. Iwo Jima is preparing to support the Government of Haiti, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti and the U.S. Agency for International Relief. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Nov 7, 2010
Haitians mopped up the muddy wreckage left by Hurricane Tomas Sunday, amid fears that flooding left by the killer storm will worsen a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 500 people so far.

The Haitian Health Ministry reported that the death toll has now climbed to 501, from 442 just three days ago, and that 7,359 people have been hospitalized with the disease.

The Artibonite River, believed to be a prime source of the cholera epidemic, was flooding Saturday, swollen by the heavy rains dumped by Tomas as it swept across the impoverished country with hurricane force on Friday.

Marianna Franco, an official with the French aid group Acted, said the river's flooding was "bad news because it has been particularly affected by cholera."

Still, Haitians emerged from Tomas with less material damage than feared, particularly in the teeming refugee camps of Port-au-Prince, where 1.3 million people have been living since an earthquake in January that killed 250,000 people.

"In the end, the day was calmer than expected," said Franco. "There was a bit of rain and wind everywhere but not as bad as expected."

Andrea Koppel of the American Red Cross also said the storm's impact was less severe than expected.

"Most of the tarps and tents that we saw had not been torn," she told CNN, warning however that residents may find "much more damage" as they ventured out of their shelters.

Health officials and aid groups worried that the flooding may exacerbate a cholera epidemic in the northern part of the country, with the disease contracted in part after people drank infected river water.

"Dangerous landslides and heavy flooding could still worsen the cholera epidemic. Stay vigilant," urged President Rene Preval on Friday.

In the capital Port-au-Prince, people were up to their ankles in water, wading through mud as they carried potable water and other supplies to cramped living quarters in the huge refugee camps.

The southern town of Leogane, which was 60 percent destroyed in the January quake, was completely under water. Television images showed people wading through flooded streets.

"We are going to have more victims because of the floods and mudslides, but we cannot yet reach the communities most affected," civil defense official Philippe Joseph told AFP.

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.

The government said it had taken steps to accommodate as many as 100,000 people in schools, churches and hospitals -- a fraction of those left homeless by the earthquake.

In the neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, heavy rain from Tomas left 39 communities isolated and forced more than 12,000 people to leave their homes. However no victims were reported.

And in nearby Cuba, officials said that despite coastal flooding, landslides and moderate infrastructure damage, no casualties were recorded.

Schools, airports, and banks were shuttered in Turks and Caicos Islands, but a hurricane watch was lifted at noon Saturday and Governor Gordon Wetherell said an aerial assessment of the islands showed no serious damage.

Tomas regained hurricane status late Saturday as it headed into the open Atlantic where it no longer posed threat to land, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center reported.

Early Sunday, the center of Tomas was located 485 miles (780 kilometers) south southwest of Bermuda, heading northeast at seven miles (11 kilometers) per hour.

Tomas's maximum sustained winds had dropped to 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour, making it a category one hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, the NHC said. But the center forecast its weakening and becoming a tropical storm again as it moves over increasingly cold waters.

earlier related report
Hurricane Tomas moves north after killing six in Haiti
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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Hundreds of thousands vulnerable as Tomas lashes Haiti
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Nov 5, 2010
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