Haiti Braces for Hurricane Tomas
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—This battered country is bracing for the arrival of a hurricane later this week that could complicate its efforts to control a cholera outbreak, and expose hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors living in tent cities to high winds and heavy rains.
Hurricane Tomas weakened slightly Sunday as it moved through the eastern Caribbean as a Category 1 storm, packing maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour. But the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami forecast that it would strengthen by the time it turns northwest toward Haiti later this week. The slow-moving storm means the island nation could endure hours of wind and rain.
"Haiti is a very big concern with this storm," NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. But it isn't possible to determine what the impact on Haiti will be as its path is still uncertain, he cautioned. "There is a great deal of uncertainty as to where the storm will go after 72 hours."
The approaching storm is adding to the challenges for Haitian and international aid officials already combating a cholera epidemic, which has sickened at least 4,764 people and killed 337 as of Saturday, according to the Haitian Ministry of Health. Flooding from the hurricane is likely to further contaminate water and put stress on poor sanitation systems, increasing the chances of the disease's spread, health officials said.
"We've been planning hurricane preparedness for months, but to cope with that on top of cholera is hugely complex and demanding, and placing massive pressure on resources already stretched," said Imogen Wall, a spokeswoman for the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "We need to move supplies quickly and our logistics are concentrated on cholera right now."
On Sunday, aid workers and camp leaders were scrambling to protect more than 1.3 million displaced survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake who live in more than 1,300 tent cities spread throughout the capital of Port-au-Prince. They also emptied warehouses of tarps and ropes to distribute to the camps. Survivors have been living in homemade, tattered tents of tin, cardboard and plastic sheets, all strung together in endless rows to fortify them against heavy rains. But they may not resist a hurricane.
Meanwhile, one map that aid workers reviewed showed many weather shelters are in hospitals—some of which are busy treating cholera patients, said some relief workers.
Focused for the past 10 days on getting water to Artibonite Valley to contain the cholera outbreak, emergency officials now have to shift resources to the country's south coast—the area most likely to be affected by Tomas, Ms. Wall said.
"You need boats and helicopters, which are already in use to distribute chlorine, to get supplies to the south," she added. "The roads will be inaccessible due to flooding."
Trucks carrying fuel supplies were dispatched by relief agencies on Sunday to Jacmel, a city on the south coast, in the event that access to fuel is cut off by the storm. Humanitarian officials have enough food for 1.1 million Haitians for six weeks, said OCHA, the coordinating office for relief agencies.
At Camp Corail, a sprawling tent city outside of Port-au-Prince, relief workers were fighting against time to build hurricane-resistant shelters. Some 7,500 earthquake survivors were relocated here in April in efforts to reduce the more than 1,316 campsites in the capital.
Workers were building shelters for at least 1,000 people before Hurricane Tomas arrives. Only 115 shelters had been built as of Sunday afternoon.
The camp's population has swelled to about 40,000 people and lacks a medical clinic, according to Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the Organization for International Migration, which manages the camps.
"The situation is tense and we are trying to move families discreetly so as to avoid things getting out of control here," he said.
A massive storm in September destroyed 100 tents here and flooded the camp, which is the size of five football fields.
The newest shelters stood out among the thousands of igloo-looking tents placed here since April. Meristal Uluse, a 31-year old father of five, moved Sunday into one of the new shelters. It is made of fireproof fiberboard walls on reinforced cement floor with a tin roof.
Mr. Uluse's family is still in a village in the mountain above the capital, and he said he plans to bring them to the camp in mid-November. (the wallstreet journal)— Betsy McKay
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