Tomas seen regaining power, pose threat to Haiti

AP News
Posted: Nov 01, 2010 11:28 AM
Tomas seen regaining power, pose threat to Haiti

No longer a hurricane, Tropical Storm Tomas weakened over the Caribbean on Monday, but forecasters warned it was likely to regain power and threaten Haiti's crowded quake refugee camps by the weekend.

The storm already has been blamed for five deaths in the eastern Caribbean, where tiny islands were still assessing the damage from the hurricane that swept through over the weekend with winds near 100 mph (160 kph).

In preparation for a possible strike on Haiti, the U.S. Southern Command pulled the USS Iwo Jima out of a humanitarian mission in Suriname for possible disaster relief in Port-au-Prince.

Tomas slipped under the threshold for a hurricane Sunday evening and the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami predicted more weakening before it begins to strengthen again around midweek.

At that point, Tomas is expected to veer northward in the general direction of Haiti, where some 1.3 million people are living under tarps and in tents that are vulnerable to heavy rains and wind.

Daniel Brown, a center forecaster, said Tomas is "likely to strengthen when it's over the central Caribbean," and Haiti could be hit by rains from outer bands in another couple of days.

Late Monday morning, Tomas' maximum sustained winds had decreased to near 45 mph (75 kph). The storm was located about 90 miles (150 kilometers) north-northeast of Curacao and was moving west-southwest near 14 mph (22 kph).

Brown said it was too early to say how strong Tomas could become later in the week or if Haiti might suffer a direct hit. But, he added, "there's certainly going to be the threat of heavy rainfall" in the impoverished nation, where widespread deforestation and ramshackle homes mean even moderate rains can cause devastation.

Aid workers in Haiti fear the worst. Hundreds of thousands of people there have only rudimentary shelter nearly 10 months after the Jan. 12 earthquake, and a cholera epidemic has killed more than 330 and hospitalized nearly 5,000.

"It's just so complex and it's very serious," said Imogen Wall of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "We are so stretched already with the cholera, and we are running a daily earthquake response as well."

Food and fuel were being stockpiled in southern areas expected to be most directly affected by Tomas, and emergency shelter materials were being distributed to the camps in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.

But with no shelters or organized evacuation plans _ and for most people, nowhere to go _ Haitians will largely be on their own.

In St. Lucia, where Tomas tore off roofs and toppled power lines.

Journalist Pete Ninvalle said on Radio Helen FM that he saw the bodies of a mother and two children recovered from a collapsed home in the town of Soufriere.

Prime Minister Stephenson King told a local radio station that an American tourist drowned at Cas En Bas beach in the island's north. He did not know the tourist's identity or provide any other details. A 31-year-old St. Lucian woman also died in a road accident during the storm, he said.

Authorities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines said two workers were hospitalized after they were blown off a roof by high winds.

St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said dozens of homes lost roofs and more than 1,000 people sought emergency shelter as the islands lost power. Widespread flooding triggered landslides that blocked as many as 30 roads.

St. Lucians were deluged by 21 hours of sustained rain starting Saturday morning. On Sunday, dead animals floated in swollen rivers and people in the capital of Castries took to streets to clear fallen branches, broken glass and other debris.

High winds ripped the roofs off a hospital, a school and a stadium and blew a large concrete cross from the roof of a century-old church, officials said. A landslide blocked a main highway.


Associated Press writers Jonathan M. Katz in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Guy Ellis in Castries, St. Lucia, and Rodolphe Lamy in Fort-de-France, Martinique, contributed to this report.