Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bracing for a big one

Fear of looming hurricane grips Haitian quake camps
Reuters, By Matthew Bigg, Nov 2, 2010

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

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

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

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.


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

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.

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