Tropical Storm Isaac is bearing down on the US after bringing torrential rain to Haiti, where thousands of earthquake victims are still living in tents.
Rain and high winds lashed the southern coast of Haiti and the capital Port-au-Prince, where more than 350,000 people made homeless by the 2010 quake are living in makeshift camps.
Rocks, mud and other debris littered the streets of Port-au-Prince Saturday morning, but the worst of the storm struck hilly inland areas of the severely deforested Caribbean country, sparking fears of flash floods and mudslides. Poor communications mean it is unclear how many might have been killed or injured.
Forecasters said Isaac could dump as much as 20 inches of water on the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and trigger a storm surge of up to 3 feet.
The Haitian government and aid groups evacuated thousands of tent camp dwellers on Friday but many chose to remain in their homes, apparently fearing they would be robbed.
France Hurtubise of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Haiti said: “There are still too many people living in the camps. There’s a good chance that those might be destroyed with the passage of the cyclone.”
Aid workers also fear that flooding could also help reignite a cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 7,500 people in Haiti since an outbreak in October 2010.
Haitians, many of whom scrape by on less than £1 per day, are fatalistic about natural disasters.
Nicholas Absolouis, an unemployed 34-year-old mechanic at a camp for homeless people in Port-au-Prince, said: “We live under tents. If there’s too much rain and wind, water comes in. There’s nothing we can do.”
About 3,000 volunteers from the Haitian government’s civil protection office were sent out across the country to warn people about flood and landslide risks. About 1,250 shelters – schools, churches or other community buildings – opened their doors to house people seeking refuge from the storm.
But aid workers said the number of shelters could inadequate and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe acknowledged Haiti had “limited means” to ensure its citizens’ safety.
Isaac is forecast to sweep over eastern Cuba on Saturday and strength en into a hurricane as it approaches the Florida Keys.
The US National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for the Keys and for the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach south to Florida Bay.
Early on Saturday Isaac was centered about 95 miles east-southeast of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with maximum winds of 60 mph. It was moving northwest at 14 mph and tropical-force winds extended nearly 200 miles from the storm’s center.
The NHC said Isaac’s exact path is uncertain but it is expected to make landfall in the US anywhere from the Florida Panhandle in the northwest of the state to Alabama and as far west as New Orleans.