As Tropical Storm Tomas bears down on the battered nation of Haiti, tens of thousands of homeless tent-dwellers are bearing the prospect of deepened misery. The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for Haiti and the Southeastern Bahamas, saying that Tomas could gain hurricane strength by the time it makes landfall Friday.
A hurricane or tropical storm could bring devastating flooding and mudslides to camps inhabited by thousands of Haitians left homeless by the January earthquake. The Haitian government called for the voluntary evacuation of all camps in the quake zone, but many camp-dwellers said they have nowhere to go.
For many, seeking shelter with friends or family isn't an option: They're homeless too. The government pointed evacuees to shelters like churches, schools, and an abandoned prison, but it's unlikely that enough sound structures remain to house evacuees. Many buildings in Port-au-Prince are now heaping piles of rubble. The gaping lack of viable options for shelter underscored the painfully slow recovery in earthquake zones.
Relief agencies reported a wait-and-watch status, even as many grappled with containing a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 300 victims and infected thousands. Some aid groups suspended earthquake recovery efforts to prepare for another disaster, though maxed-out operations promise to make another disaster perplexingly difficult to confront.
For Haitians struggling to manage their own tenuous relief efforts, the impending storm is especially frightening. In the coastal town of Leogane-the epicenter of the earthquake-Pastor Jeanot Decius of the Lamb's Center Children's Home told The Miami Herald he doesn't have a contingency plan for the 37 orphan children living in tents in the church's courtyard. He said his only option for shelter is a small wooden shed.
"Our economic situation doesn't permit us to go anywhere else," said Decius. "Clearly, we need a house for the children, because these tents cannot stand."
For more on Haiti, see Jamie Dean's "Lessons from Haiti: Controversy at an American-supported ministry offers a cautionary tale for Christians who want to help a devastated nation" from the current issue of WORLD.