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Tropical Storm Tomas Regains Hurricane Strength, Soaks Haiti Camps

Posted on 05 Nov 2010

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Re-strengthened to a hurricane Friday as it headed between Cuba and Haiti, Tomas battered overnight crowded tent and tarpaulin camps housing vulnerable Haitian earthquake survivors.

Although some camp dwellers in Haiti's capital, homeless from the Jan. 12 quake, were able to evacuate to more secure shelter with family or friends, or in schools and public buildings, hundreds of thousands spent the night under dripping plastic and canvas in the mud-choked encampments.

"It rained, but it was a normal night and I slept," said ice cream seller Zaporte N'Zanou, who passed the night in a tent in the big Champs de Mars quake survivors' camp in front of the wrecked presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.

With the approach of Tomas from the south, the United Nations and relief agencies have gone on maximum alert to prepare for the risk of a further humanitarian emergency in Haiti, which is already reeling from a deadly cholera epidemic and from the widespread destruction of the earthquake.

At 8 a.m., Tomas was moving northeastward to the west of Haiti, about 160 miles from Port-au-Prince, packing top sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

It had earlier re-intensified over the Caribbean sea into a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, heading on a track that would take it near or over eastern Cuba, the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas.

On Thursday, hours before the approach of the cyclone, Haitian President Rene Preval went on national radio to urge citizens to take precautions and follow evacuation recommendations in the face of the risk of gusting winds, surging waves and torrential rains.

"Protect your lives," Preval told Haitians.

The Miami-based hurricane center said the biggest threat from Tomas would be heavy rainfall that could produce flash flooding and life-threatening mudslides in Haiti, where massive deforestation -- caused largely by impoverished peasants cutting firewood for decades -- has left hills and mountains bare and eroded.

The Jan. 12 earthquake killed more than a quarter of a million people in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation. About 1.3 million survivors live in makeshift tent camps crammed into open spaces in the wrecked capital.

With the storm threat and the spreading cholera epidemic, Haiti faces major disruption less than a month before Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections. Electoral officials have not moved to postpone the vote.