First strong rain since earthquake swamps Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The first heavy rain since the earthquake doused Haiti's capital Thursday night, soaking hundreds of thousands of homeless in a city where barren hillsides and weakened buildings are threatening to give way.

The storm hit as relief officials changed tack on dealing with quake survivors, delaying plans to build big refugee camps outside Port-au-Prince. Instead, they want the homeless to pack up their tents and tarps and return to destroyed neighborhoods.

People dashed for shelter down streets streaming with runoff from the driving tropical rain. The downpour swept trash along roadside gutters, clogging drains and turning depressions into ponds.

Some women stripped and took advantage of the downpour to take a shower — there are no bathing facilities in overcrowded tent camps that officials want to move people out of.

At a camp housing 40,000 in the hills overlooking the capital, Matin Bussreth dashed for cover from his bedsheet-tent to a neighbor's plastic tarpaulin.

"It's a deplorable moment," said Bussreth. "I heard they might be giving out tents. I hope someone will be giving me one."

With the official rainy season still a month away, forecasters warned that the storm, the first since the Jan. 12 quake, could bring floods and mudslides to a population in a perilous state. Many dwellings are severely damaged or clinging to the hillsides.

Bussreth said he could not move back to his destroyed home because it's on a hillside too steep to pitch a tent.

People who lined up at a downtown site Thursday morning to register for the new campaign to resettle more than 1.2 million Haitians expressed skepticism and were dismissive of the plan, and relief officials acknowledged its immense challenges.

"There will be flooding. There will be discomfort, misery. And that's not avoidable," a top U.N. official for Haiti, Anthony Banbury, told a news conference this week.