PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Haiti on Monday prepared to evacuate tens of thousands ahead of the likely arrival this week of Tropical Storm Tomas, as the quake-hit nation struggles to recover from a deadly cholera outbreak.
Forecasters said Tomas, which was downgraded overnight from hurricane status, was expected to regain strength and reach Haiti within the next 72 hours, possibly as a hurricane by Friday.
The storm’s violent winds, heavy rain and landslides pose a particular risk to the up to 1.3 million people who inhabit the makeshift tent city camps set up after January’s devastating earthquake.
“In Port-au-Prince, we are going to ask that everyone who lives in the camps prepare to evacuate the tents, which could collapse in the strong winds,” a civil defense official said.
President Rene Preval on Monday traveled to the south of the country to oversee the rescue and civil defense efforts.
The US National Hurricane Center predicted Tomas could strike the island of Hispaniola shared by the battered nation and the Dominican Republic as a hurricane on Friday, with wind speeds of between 74 and 110 miles (119 and 177 kilometers) per hour.
The United Nations ordered emergency food and shelter to parts of Haiti threatened by Tomas, which could afflict a half-million people.
Meanwhile, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) sent aid to assist some 25,000 families in 13 towns, a spokeswoman told AFP.
Landfall here by Tomas would be the latest disaster to hit the impoverished nation, where authorities are struggling to contain a cholera outbreak.
Masses of people are still huddled in precarious tent cities in the wake of a massive January earthquake that flattened much of the country, killing more than 250,000 people.
More than 300 people have died over the past few weeks since the cholera epidemic erupted, amid fears the dreaded disease could spread to the tent cities in Port-au-Prince, where tens of thousands of homeless have sought shelter.
Tomas lost its hurricane status overnight Sunday into Monday, and now has maximum sustained winds at around 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour.
The storm on Monday was moving toward the west-southwest over the open sea at 12 miles (19 kilometers) per hour and was located some 400 miles (640 kilometers) southeast of Port-au-Prince.