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With Tomas bearing down, Haiti's homeless have nowhere to go

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 the quake-stricken nation Thursday. Government officials and police told people to leave their camps, but most had nowhere to go.

An estimated 1.3 million homeless faced their hardest decision since the earthquake: Do they follow the government's advice, leave their flimsy shelters and risk never being allowed to return? Or 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.

Haiti's civil protection department has said people 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 left a camp in the Canape-Vert district with about five passengers in all.

Officials did not say where the buses would go.

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 65 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. Tomas could strengthen into a hurricane as its center passes Haiti and eastern Cuba moving toward the southeastern Bahamas. Five to 10 inches of rain was forecast for much of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Port-au-Prince's airport was expected to be closed through today, according to American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Sanderson.

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 Nadine Lochard, civil protection coordinator for the department that includes Port-au-Prince.

With Tomas bearing down, Haiti's homeless have nowhere to go 11/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 11:55pm]

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