Haiti spared the worst of Tomas
For residents of Haiti, still struggling to recover from last January's destructive earthquake and more recently trying to cope with an outbreak of cholera, the country dodged a bullet.
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Prior to the storm, concerns centered on the effect a direct hit would have on some 1.3 million people living in tent cities in and around the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. In some ways, it's a vulnerability too many Haitians have long experienced, says Julie Schindall, a spokeswoman for Oxfam/America in Port-au-Prince.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Tropical storm Tomas
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She notes that before the earthquake, some 80 percent of the capital's residents lived in slums in shelters hardly more robust than the tents that now house them. Even before the quake, they lived "in a country that doesn't have the infrastructure to take care of itself on a day-to-day basis the way that its neighboring countries do," she says.
As it turned out, winds in the capital were mild, and the rainfall not nearly as heavy as people feared. The worst flooding came to tent cities built on the streets of Port-au-Prince, says Andrea Koppel, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross who currently is in the capital. There were no other paths for running water to follow.
Outside the city center, the Red Cross had been working with residents for months to dig drainage ditches and build sandbag retaining walls to keep water and mud at bay.
Teams have been working their way through these areas assessing any damage, Ms. Koppel notes. And while they have yet to report in, she says she counts it as an encouraging sign that during the height of the storm, volunteers in these areas still had cell phone service, and they reported nothing significant in the way of damage.
Prior to the storm, public health officials and aid groups were trying to stem an outbreak of cholera that threatened to reach the city and spread. At the time, representatives of the American Red Cross in Port-au-Prince expressed concerns over the effect flooding through the tent cities would have in spreading the disease.
So far, public-health officials have succeeded in keeping the small handful of cases isolated, Koppel says.
Given the 800 people killed during the 2008 hurricane season, when Haiti fell within the crosshairs of four tropical cyclones and fewer people were exposed to the elements, "we got very, very lucky" with Tomas, Koppel says.
The event once again throws a spotlight on the challenges the international community faces in trying to keep the tottering country upright while also trying to help it rebuild and become self-sustaining, aid workers say.
Tomas's timing was terrible, Oxfam's Ms. Schindall says, adding, "I sincerely hope that this is a reminder to us all that we need to seize on this opportunity after the earthquake to rebuild this country properly."