PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Mud up to their ankles and a steady rain falling on their tents, residents of Haiti's earthquake camps ignored warnings to leave their makeshift homes as Hurricane Tomas bore down on their deforested and flood-prone nation early Friday.
Tomas' maximum sustained winds were near 80 mph (130 kph) Friday, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, which predicted dangerous storm surges along the coast and possible flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas.
Haitian radio, citing the Interior Ministry, reported that a man drowned in the far-western department of Grand-Anse while attempting to drive through a swollen river. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Haiti's civil protection department had urged people living in camps for the 1.3 million Haitians made homeless by the Jan. 12 earthquake to go to the homes of friends and family.
By evening it was clear most camp residents were not heeding the advice. People in the yard of a high school on the Delmas 33 thoroughfare said their camp's governing committee had passed along the official advice to leave, but they decided to stockpile water and tie down their tents instead.
Buses began circulating around the camps just after dark Thursday night to take residents away, but few were willing to go. Four civil protection buses that pulled up at a camp in the Canape-Vert district left with about five passengers on them.
Many camp residents stayed put out of fear they would lose their few possessions and, worse, be denied permission to return when the storm was over.
"I'm scared that if I leave they'll tear this whole place down. I don't have money to pay for a home somewhere else," said Clarice Napoux, 21, who lives with her boyfriend on a soccer field behind the St. Therese church in Petionville. They lost their house to the quake and their only income is the little she makes selling uncooked rice, beans and dry goods.
ate Thursday, Tomas passed to the east of Jamiaca, where earlier schools closed in eastern provinces and traffic was jammed in the capital, Kingston, as businesses closed early.
"I'm taking no chances," said Carlton Samms, a bus driver who went home early after stopping at a supermarket for food and other supplies.
The storm was expected to cross over Haiti's southwestern tip then swirl through the strait that divides Haiti from Cuba.