Haitians urged to evacuate tent

November 5, 2010 12:00 am

, Haiti, Nov 5- Haitian leaders called for the evacuation of thousands of people from tent cities as Tropical Storm Tomas bore down on the quake-hit Caribbean nation, but many 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 organizations were rushing to get people to safety and secure vital stocks of medicines and goods before the arrival of the storm.

Tomas churned toward Haiti, threatening further havoc in an impoverished country at a time when it is battling a growing cholera epidemic that has killed more than 440 people.

Global relief organizations were stepping up efforts to deal with potential storm damage as well as the cholera outbreak.

"Although the cholera outbreak has largely been contained to regions north of Port-au-Prince, Tropical Storm Tomas could set back our efforts to contain the outbreak in the camps, as heavy rains cause pooling water that can increase spread of the disease," the American Red Cross in Washington said.

Ahead of the storm arrival, 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, was set to sweep past Haiti early Friday bringing heavy rains and winds, and adding more misery to the lives of 1.3 million people left homeless by January\’s quake.

The US National Hurricane Center in Miami said Tomas was "showing signs of getting better organized" as it moved north toward eastern Jamaica and Haiti.

At 0000 GMT Friday, Tomas was centered 90 miles (150 kilometers) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica and 265 miles (425 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince, with maximum sustained winds of 60 miles (95 kilometers) per hour.

"A turn toward the northeast is expected over the next 48 hours," the hurricane center said. "On the forecast track the center of Tomas will pass near eastern Jamaica or western Haiti tonight."

Tomas could be near or at hurricane strength as the center passes Haiti, the US experts added.

Hurricane warnings were posted for Haiti, parts of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands along with the Cuban province of Guantanamo. Other storm warnings were in effect in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and other parts of Cuba.

In Haiti, 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 Thursday.

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."

The government said it had taken steps to accommodate as many as 100,000 people in schools, churches and hospitals, said civil defense official Nadia Lochard.

The impending storm was 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.

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 the US Navy ordered the USS Iwo Jima to prepare to leave for Haiti with humanitarian aid.

Christian Aid said non-governmental organizations 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 camp toilets and stock up on water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts, tents, plastic sheeting and hygiene kits, it added.


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