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Fear of looming hurricane grips Haitian quake camps
November 2, 2010 / 10:46 PM / 7 years ago

Fear of looming hurricane grips Haitian quake camps

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - How do you prepare a tent to stand up to a hurricane?

<p>Earthquake victims buy groceries at an improvised store in Camp Corail about 12 miles (19 km) north of Port-au-Prince November 1, 2010. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz</p>

That is the question faced by hundreds of thousands of Haitian earthquake survivors living in fragile outdoor camps who are bracing for a hurricane forecast to hit the poor, stricken Caribbean country over the weekend.

“This camp won’t stand up to a big wind,” said Jean Sincio, a coordinator for a camp of flimsy tents built in the grounds of a school. It is one of hundreds of tent and tarpaulin settlements in the wrecked capital Port-au-Prince housing more than 1.3 million people left homeless by the January 12 quake.

Tropical Storm Tomas hit the Caribbean’s eastern islands as a hurricane three days ago, killing five people in St. Lucia before weakening. It is seen gathering force again to batter Haiti and Jamaica on Friday, forecasters said.

This has triggered another national emergency for the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, which lost more than a quarter of a million people to the earthquake and is now also battling a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 300.

“Normally in Haiti we are not adequately prepared for this type of catastrophe, but this time people are even more fragile,” said Jamson Charles, a local leader at the Acra 2 camp that climbs one of Port-au-Prince’s many steep hills.

With United Nations aid officials fearing an hours-long battering from Tomas, volunteers have been clearing trash from drainage ditches to allow floodwater to disperse more easily.

But the Acra 2 camp’s tents, like most in the capital, are made of tarpaulin tacked to a thin wooden frame, flimsy at the best of times and no match for a hurricane.

A full-scale evacuation of the more than a million camp dwellers is impossible -- there is simply not enough existing secure shelter where they can be transferred to -- so Haitian authorities are urging camp residents who can do so to seek safer refuge with family and friends who have solid homes.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Tomas, which was carrying top sustained winds of 40 miles per hour, could regain hurricane strength by Thursday.

<p>An earthquake victim walks past a tent in Camp Corail, a provisional camp about 12 miles (20 km) north of Port-au-Prince November 1, 2010. REUTERS/ Eduardo Munoz</p>

On Tuesday evening, the storm was about 385 miles from Port-au-Prince and moving west across the Caribbean Sea. It was expected to turn northwest in the next two days on a track that could pose a “significant threat” to Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the hurricane center said.

FEAR OF BUILDINGS STILL LINGERS

Underlining the quake survivors’ vulnerability, a storm in September killed at least six people, injured 70 and destroyed or damaged the tent homes of more than 10,000 families. Floods and mudslides in mid-October killed 10 more people.

The United Nations and aid agencies, already stretched by the still spreading cholera epidemic, have launched a major logistics operation to prepare for the hurricane, rushing food, medicine and shelter materials to the camps and to coastal communities seen at risk from storm surge or flooding.

<p>Earthquake victims sheltered at Camp Corail, a provisional camp about 12 miles (20 km) north of Port-au-Prince, walk among their tents November 1, 2010. REUTERS/ Eduardo Munoz</p>

Disaster-prone Haiti is regularly battered by tropical storms. Four struck the country in quick succession in 2008, killing hundreds and forcing residents of Gonaives on the west coast to live on their roofs for weeks when the town flooded.

In the capital’s Petionville Golf Club quake survivors’ camp, camp leaders were urging residents to keep away from ravines that rain could turn into raging torrents.

Many camp residents said they did not have any money to stock up on provisions after months being unable to finds jobs after the earthquake, which crippled the Haitian economy.

“Yes, we have heard of the hurricane but I haven’t done anything to prepare. There’s nothing much I can do without money,” said seamstress Emma Augustin, who lost four of her 10 children in the earthquake. She lives in a temporary camp of around 5,000 people set up in the grounds of the prime minister’s residence on a hillside.

“The state has basically ceased to exist since January 12th,” said Yves-Mary Sopin, a camp leader there. “If there is a hurricane here, people will cry. They will pray and maybe they will run to the Red Cross tent.”

But after the traumatizing experience of the quake, in which victims were crushed in falling buildings, many were still frightened about the idea of sheltering in buildings.

“If there is a hurricane, people will run to the school, but of course people are afraid of concrete after the earthquake,” said the school camp coordinator Sincio.

Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Doina Chiacu

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