Tomas became a Category 1 hurricane as it approached Haiti early Friday, forecasters said.
As of 5 a.m. ET Friday, the storm’s center was about 145 miles (235 kilometers) south of Guantanamo, Cuba, and about 175 miles (280 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.
The eye of the storm was expected to pass near western Haiti Friday morning, and near or over eastern Cuba later in the day. Heavy winds have already begun to pummel Haiti’s coast, the center said.
Tomas was moving northeast at 9 mph (15 kph), and the storm could pick up speed as it moves toward the coast, forecasters said. Winds from the storm have increased to near 80 mph, the hurricane center said, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 15 miles (30 kilometers) from the center.
Rain associated with the storm had already started falling on Haiti on Thursday afternoon as aid agencies scrambled to move as many people as possible into storm shelters.
The storm could deal a disastrous blow to a nation still struggling to its feet after a devastating January earthquake. It showed signs Thursday night of becoming better organized, the hurricane center said.
“People are already dislocated,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, which is moving about 2,000 people from the Corail Cesselesse tent camp into a former church.
The group is working “as fast as we can,” he said Thursday.
“We don’t have anywhere to move any of the people in the camps that we manage directly other than Corail,” Deb Ingersoll of the American Refugee Committee said of the Corail Cesselesse camp. The committee serves about 100,000 people in three other camps, she said.
Although her organization is helping disseminate information and encourage people to leave, “to be honest, I’m not sure many of them will,” she said. “They’re very entrenched here,” and many worry about losing their possessions.
“They’re looking at us like we’re crazy for telling them they should leave,” Ingersoll said. “They don’t seem to think this is an event. … Aid workers are far more worried than they are.”
She said group members are dismantling tents in the center of camp to prevent them from becoming projectiles in the wind and encouraging residents to find family or friends who still have homes to stay with. Videos of relocations on the International Organization for Migration’s website show pickups piled precariously with mattresses and people.
Tomas is forecast to dump 5 to 10 inches of rain on Haiti, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches in some areas — amounts that could trigger flooding and landslides. In addition, a storm surge could raise water levels by as much as 1 to 3 feet above normal tide levels in the warning area in areas of onshore winds, accompanied by “large and destructive waves,” said the hurricane center.
“Any amount of rain is dangerous here,” Ingersoll said, noting that many residents are housed in tents that have experienced sun, rain and wind for 11 months and are “not very well secured.”
The government has been advising Haitians to seek sturdy shelter since Wednesday, Doyle said. Humanitarian organizations are doing what they can. But with an estimated 1.3 million Haitians left homeless by the January 12 earthquake, the task before them is enormous.
“For most [internally displaced persons] and those living in communities vulnerable to flooding, there are few good options,” the International Organization for Migration says on its website. Winds associated with Tomas, if it re-intensifies into a hurricane, could reach 100 mph.
Even before the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Americas, with about 80 percent of its residents living in poverty, according to the CIA World Factbook. As it grappled with rebuilding, a cholera outbreak occurred, with a current death toll of nearly 450 people.
“Even if Tomas only brushes Haiti, it may exacerbate the epidemic, facilitating the spread of the disease into and throughout metropolitan Port-au-Prince, where a third of the population remains homeless and in camps,” the International Organization for Migration said.
But many structures that would usually be used for storm shelters — schools and hospitals — are no longer standing. And many of Haiti’s homeless have no options. “Clearly, there’s not enough [structures],” Ingersoll said.
Tomas was once was a Category 2 hurricane and then weakened to a tropical depression before re-intensifying. Forecasters predict it will weaken on Saturday.
Find this article at: http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/11/05/tropical.weather/index.html?hpt=T2