Haitians 'escape lightly' as hurricane passes

With little to protect them beyond plastic sheets and flimsy tents, Haitians displaced by this year's earthquake cowered again yesterday as Hurricane Tomas roared past, lashing their struggling land with rains and fierce winds.

But most of the country, including Port-au-Prince, the capital, appeared to have been spared a direct hit, as the storm, after strengthening overnight to a category one hurricane, squeezed up the straits separating Haiti from Cuba, bound for the Bahamas in the northern Caribbean this weekend.

Of particular concern was the danger of serious flooding in the many tent cities that are still home to thousands made homeless by the January earthquake. There were fears that the ensuing mess of mud and landslides would exacerbate a cholera outbreak in the country that has already killed 400 and is threatening to spread.

There were few reports of damage after the first assaults of the storm, although one man was reported killed trying to cross a stream. Indeed, Haitians, who are used to punishment by the elements, seemed to be taking Tomas mostly in their stride.

"It rained but it was a normal night and I slept," said ice-cream seller Zaporte N'Zanou, who spent the night in a tent in the big Champs de Mars quake survivors' camp in front of the wrecked presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.

Aid workers with the International Organisation for Migration had evacuated most of the residents of one tent city close to the water's edge after initial resistance from residents. "We have escaped pretty lightly so far," the organisation's spokesman, Leonard Doyle, said. "It's not as bad as we had feared."