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Over one million homeless Haitians brace for hurricane

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2010-11-05

As if a catastrophic earthquake and a cholera outbreak were not enough, Haiti’s 1.3 million homeless are facing high winds and heavy rains from Tropical Storm Tomas, which is expected to make landfall on Friday.

Haiti, already hit by a devastating earthquake and a cholera epidemic this year, is bracing for worse to come as a tropical storm approaching the Caribbean island threatens to turn into a hurricane.

Tropical Storm Tomas hit the eastern Caribbean as a hurricane on Sunday. Fourteen people were killed in St Lucia before the storm weakened.

Forecasters are saying that Tomas is gathering strength and is heading towards Haiti and Jamaica, due to hit on Friday.

For Haitians, this would be a terrible blow after the catastrophes of 2010. The January earthquake killed upwards of 250,000 and made 1.3 million people homeless.

Life for the homeless, mostly living in tents, was made worse by a cholera outbreak last month which killed 337 people and made life intolerable for thousands more.

While a full-scale evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people is impossible, officials, who have prepared a handful of small public storm shelters, have asked residents of the tent cities to seek shelter with family and friends where possible.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said rainfall of up to 5 inches (13 centimetres) could cause catastrophic floods in the severely deforested country.

Imogen Wall, the UN’s humanitarian spokeswoman in Haiti, told FRANCE 24 the main effort was in public information and using scarce resources to strengthen tents ahead of the storm’s arrival.

“Everything and everyone in Haiti is vulnerable,” she said. “Engineers have been busy building flood protection systems for the expected rain, we are getting out all available ropes and tarpaulins to strengthen tents, and we are working on making sure the people are informed as to the progress of the storm.”

She added: “Haiti has never had enough storm shelters and resources are already stretched. And although bad weather can be predicted, the cholera outbreak, which we are still fighting, was a shock.

“The storm has added enormous pressure while we have got to keep the cholera response going.

“Hurricanes do not create a good environment for handling a cholera outbreak.”

Tropical Storm Tomas would be the first major storm to strike Haiti since 2008, when Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike battered Haiti in the space of a month.

Almost 800 people were killed and 15% of the country’s economy was wiped out.

If the hurricane follows its predicted track, the hurricane could hit every major Haitian city including Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes, Gonaives and Cap-Haitien.

A huge international aid effort flowed into Haiti in the immediate wake of the quake, but reconstruction has barely begun.

Much of this is because funds promised by the international community have yet to materialise.

The United States, which pledged 1.15 billion dollars in March, has sent amphibious war ship USS Iwo Jima loaded with humanitarian aid to Haiti as the storm gathers pace.

Following January’s quake the international community pledged a total 1.5 billion dollars for reconstruction over five years.

Most of this has yet to reach the people of Haiti.

Date created : 2010-11-03


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