PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The sky over Port-au-Prince's tarp cities grew dark, the wind picked up and rain began to fall as Tropical Storm Tomas headed for quake-stricken Haiti on Thursday. Government officials and police told people to leave their camps, but most had nowhere to go.
An estimated 1.3 million homeless people faced their hardest decision since the earthquake: Do they follow the government's advice and leave their slapped-together shelters ahead of the storm and risk never being allowed to return? Or do they risk their lives and stay?
"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 on a soccer field behind the St. Therese church in Petionville.
She and her boyfriend lost their house in the Jan. 12 quake. Their only income is the few Haitian gourdes she makes selling uncooked rice, beans and dry goods.
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Haiti's civil protection department has said those living in post-quake camps should go to the homes of friends and family. Buses began circulating just after dark to take camp 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 in all.
President Rene Preval warned residents to leave camps in a Thursday radio address, but acknowledged, "The government doesn't have enough places to move everyone."
By Thursday evening, Tomas was packing winds near 60 mph and was expected to pass eastern Jamaica later in the night and near western Haiti early today, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Forecasters said Tomas could strengthen into a hurricane as its center passed Haiti and eastern Cuba moving toward the southeastern Bahamas.
Civil protection officials in Haiti have a list of thousands of usable shelters in the capital — mostly schools and churches — but it was not being released to the public despite pressure from international aid groups who said the information could save lives.
"We don't want people to know where these buildings are because people are going to invade and we won't have enough places for the people who really need them," said Nadia Lochard, coordinator of Haiti's Civil Protection agency.