PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Hurricane Tomas pushed northward from Haiti on Saturday, leaving villagers to mop up, evacuees to return to their tents and almost everyone relieved that the country did not suffer what could have been its first big disaster since the January earthquake.
The storm's western track caused widespread floods and wind damage along the far edge of Haiti's coast and is blamed for the deaths of at least eight people. It was a serious blow, but far better than had been feared in a nation where storms have been known to kill thousands, and more than 1 million quake survivors were living under tarps and tents.
"It really didn't dump a lot of rain on us, so we got very lucky," said Steve McAndrew, Haiti earthquake relief coordinator for the American Red Cross.
Haitian civil protection officials were still receiving reports from the remote mountainous countryside, and the storm's outer bands continued dropping rain on the north. Floodwaters covered streets in Leogane, the town closest to the epicenter of the Jan. 12 quake, and about a foot of water stood on a thoroughfare of the flood-prone northwestern city of Gonaives. Mountain towns were cut off by flooded roads and landslides, including one reported by U.N. peacekeepers in the mountains near the southern port of Jacmel.
But it was clear that the most-feared catastrophes were averted: Earthquake camps were not torn apart by wind, storm surge did not drown the ocean-side slums, the La Quinte River — which has twice drowned Gonaives above the first stories of its buildings since 2004 — stayed in its bed.
U.S. Marine helicopters buzzed the southern coast from the USS Iwo Jima, reporting back good news.
"It sounds like from what everybody's seeing that it's no worse than after a major storm here. There's some standing water out there but nothing's washed away," U.S. embassy spokesman Jon Piechowski said.
Aid workers and the government in part credited mitigation efforts — for instance a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded effort to dredge and reinforce the La Quinte after the last catastrophic flood there in 2008. Haitian civil protection coordinator Nadia Lochard, who oversees Port-au-Prince, said lives were saved because people listened to the department's advice.
Tomas, meanwhile, weakened into a tropical storm early Saturday but regained its hurricane strength in the afternoon with to winds of 75 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The hurricane was located about 250 miles north-northeast of Grand Turk Island and was expected to continue moving to the northeast into open water. All storm warnings were discontinued.