Tomas a tropical storm after soaking Haiti

Tropical Storm Tomas spun away from the Turks and Caicos Islands and into the open Atlantic on Saturday, gradually losing steam a day after battering seaside towns in Haiti as a hurricane.

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti: Tropical Storm Tomas spun away from the Turks and Caicos Islands and into the open Atlantic on Saturday, gradually losing steam a day after battering seaside towns in Haiti as a hurricane.

All storm warnings were discontinued but a massive gray wall of clouds threatened to bring up to 2 more inches (5 centimeters) of rain over parts of the British dependency and Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

On Saturday morning, the storm`s center was about 115 miles (185 kilometers) northeast of Grand Turk Island, which lost power overnight when utility lines toppled. It had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph), the center reported, and steady weakening was expected over the next 2 days

Emergency officials in the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas said there were no immediate reports of significant damage, and islanders breathed a sigh of relief.

"I believed it would have been harder," said 25-year-old Andrea Been, hunched under an umbrella in Providenciales. "I though we would have had more rains and winds."

As a Category 1 hurricane on Friday, Tomas came ashore in Haiti on the nation`s far-southwestern edge with 85-mph (135-kph) winds, flooding several towns and damaging buildings with gale-force winds. It inundated camps harboring earthquake refugees, turning some into squalid islands in Leogane, a town west of the capital that lost 90 percent of its buildings and thousands of people in the Jan. 12 quake.

Civil protection authorities said Saturday that the storm killed at least six people, with two more missing.

In the capital, Port-au-Prince, Tomas turned streets into canals of flowing garbage, but spared most earthquake-refugee camps.

On Saturday morning, the U.S. military started flights from the USS Iwo Jima to assess damage in Haiti. U.S. Southern Command spokesman Jose Ruiz said the flights were requested by Haiti`s government.

Reports were only beginning to emerge from mountain towns cut off by flooding. But as officials took stock and aid workers rushed to contain flood damage and a widening cholera epidemic, Tomas left harsh reminders of poverty`s toll on the Caribbean nation.

"We have two catastrophes that we are managing. The first is the hurricane and the second is cholera," President Rene Preval said Friday in a television and radio address.

He could have included a third: the scores of collapsed buildings and sprawling refugee camps that still dominate the landscape 10 months after a magnitude-7 earthquake turned the capital into rubble.

Old and new disasters mingled in Leogane, where milky brown floodwaters filled quake-cracked streets and cut off a camp that had been home to hundreds of refugees. Inside homes, floodwaters swirled around furniture and framed pictures.

Dozens of families carried their belongings through thigh-high waters to higher ground, huddling under blankets and a sign that read "Welcome to Leogane."

Protesters beat drums and blasted horns in the pouring rain as they lambasted officials for failing to build a canal along a river that has overflowed repeatedly.

Local authorities blamed the federal government.

Haitian authorities had urged the 1.3 million people left homeless by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince to leave the camps and go to the homes of friends and family. Buses were sent to take those who wanted to evacuate to shelters.

But many chose to stay under the donated plastic tarps out of fear that they could be evicted from the private land where they have been camped out since the quake. They also feared losing their few possessions.

A near-riot broke out amid a poorly coordinated relocation effort at the government`s flagship camp, Corail-Cesselesse, when residents began overturning tables and throwing bottles to protest what they saw as a forced removal.

About a third of the camp`s nearly 8,000 residents ultimately went to shelters in a nearby school, church and hospital, American Refugee Committee camp manager Bryant Castro said.

The storm dropped heavy rain up the coast but did not cause significant flooding in Gonaives, a northwestern coastal city that completely flooded in 2004 and again in 2008, killing thousands.

Some of the city`s main streets were under a foot of water Saturday, but the La Quinte River, dredged and reinforced along its banks by the U.S. Agency for International Development since the 2008 floods, stayed on its course.
Poverty has steadily worsened in Haiti over the past century, with an unending spiral of political upheaval, flawed international intervention, frustrated aid attempts and natural disasters. Post-quake reconstruction has barely begun or even been funded; less than 38 percent of the money pledged for rebuilding has been delivered, including a promised $1.15 billion from the United States.
Tomas killed at least 14 people earlier in the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia.

Bureau Report

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