November 4, 2010 / 4:51 PM / 7 years ago

Haiti evacuation effort stalls as storm closes in

4 Min Read

* Tropical Storm Tomas to pass near Haiti Thursday night

* Youth protesters disrupt evacuation effort in tent camp

* Sprawling seaside slum in capital prone to flooding

By Matthew Bigg

CROIX-DES-BOUQUETS, Haiti, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Angry earthquake survivors in Haiti disrupted an attempted evacuation on Thursday of a resettlement camp as Tropical Storm Tomas bore down on the poor Caribbean country already reeling from a cholera epidemic and destruction from the quake.

Tomas was expected to hit Haiti on Thursday night, battering the stark and largely deforested land with surging waves and torrential rains of up to 10 or 15 inches (25-38 cm) in some areas.

An effort to move some 2,000 people from Corail, an exposed camp outside Port-au-Prince set up by the United Nations and aid groups to resettle homeless quake survivors, was obstructed by camp dwellers worried that authorities were trying to permanently move them out.

More than 100 yelling youths broke tables set up by aid workers to process the evacuees from the tent and tarpaulin camp of some 7,700 people located at the base of several bare hills outside of the quake-ravaged Haitian capital.

Aid workers say the camp's location at the confluence of several streams makes it particularly vulnerable to flooding.

"We are upset because they have not told us where we are going," said Domarcand Fenel, the head of a committee of camp residents. "People believe they want to expel us."

About 1.3 million survivors of the Jan. 12 quake that killed more than a quarter of a million people in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation are still living in makeshift tent and tarpaulin camps crammed into open spaces in the capital.

"The big fear is for people on exposed mountains. These people are at high risk of landslides and flash flooding," said Leonard Doyle, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, referring to the Corail camp residents.

Tomas is expected to bring surging waves, heavy rains and possible flash flooding and mudslides to mountainous Haiti, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), the Miami-based hurricane center said Tomas was packing top sustained winds of 45 miles per hour (77 kph) and was about 295 miles (475 km) west-southwest of Port-au-Prince.

It was expected to pass near Jamaica and Haiti within a matter of hours and hurricane warnings were in effect for Haiti, the Turks and Caicos Islands and parts of the Bahamas and Cuba.

The Haitian government ordered all schools closed on Thursday and Friday.

Around 20 camps in the densely populated Cite Soleil slum in Haiti's capital are also at particular risk because the neighborhood sits at sea level, Doyle said.

The government is urging people in areas prone to flooding to seek refuge with friends or family ahead of the storm, sending out the message through radio and TV and a stream of text messages to Haitians via cell phones.

Authorities fear that the hundreds of thousands of people living in the quake survivors' camps are vulnerable to high winds and torrential rain.

The United Nations says the storm will almost certainly exacerbate a cholera epidemic that has so far killed 442 people and sickened more than 6,700, according to government figures.

With the storm threat and the spreading epidemic, Haiti faces major disruption less than a month before Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections. Electoral officials have not moved to postpone the vote. (Editing by Kevin Gray and Jackie Frank)

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