LEOGANE, Haiti (AP) — Hurricane Tomas flooded the earthquake-shattered remains of a Haitian town on Friday, forcing families who had already lost their homes in one disaster to flee another. In the country's capital, quake refugees resisted calls to abandon flimsy tarp and tent camps.
Driving winds and storm surge battered Leogane, a seaside town west of Port-au-Prince that was near the epicenter of the Jan. 12 earthquake and was 90 percent destroyed. Dozens of families in one earthquake-refuge camp carried their belongings through thigh-high water to a taxi post on high ground, waiting out the rest of the storm under blankets and a sign that read "Welcome to Leogane."
"We got flooded out and we're just waiting for the storm to pass. There's nothing we can do," said Johnny Joseph, a 20-year-old resident.
The growing hurricane with 75 mph (120 kph) winds battered the western tip of Haiti's southern peninsula and the cities of Jeremie and Les Cayes.
At least three people died trying to cross swollen rivers, Haiti civil protection officials said. The hurricane had earlier killed at least 14 people in the eastern Caribbean.
The center of the storm was about 70 miles (110 kilometers) southwest of Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas after lashing Port-au-Prince and draping charcoal clouds over the city. Steady rain turned the streets of Haiti's capital into flowing canals that carried garbage through the city. Farther north in Gonaives, a coastal city twice inundated by recent tropical storms, police evacuated more than 200 inmates from one prison to another.
Aid workers are concerned the storm will worsen Haiti's cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 440 people and hospitalized more than 6,700 others.
In Leogane, an earthquake camp suddenly became an island as floodwater surged around it, stranding hundreds of people in their tents.
Closer to the shore, water poured into the Leogane home of Abdul Khafid, swirling around the furniture. His family grabbed its most important items — birth certificates, a radio and a computer — and headed to their mosque to spend the night.
Haiti's civil protection department had urged people living in camps for the 1.3 million Haitians made homeless by the Jan. 12 earthquake to go to the homes of friends and family.
But many ignored the advice, fearing their few possessions might be stolen or they might even be denied permission to return when the storm is over.
Most of Haiti's post-quake homeless live under donated plastic tarps on open fields. Much is private land, where they have been constantly fighting eviction. A September report from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 29 percent of 1,268 camps studied had been closed forcibly, meaning the often violent relocation of tens of thousands of people.
U.S. Marines were standing by on the USS Iwo Jima off the coast of Haiti, preparing to help take relief supplies if needed.
Late Thursday, Tomas passed to the east of Jamaica, where schools remained closed and public transportation was stalled on Friday as the island struggled with widespread flooding from a previous storm.
Patrice Edmond, a maid who caught a ride into Kingston, said buses were not operating.
"I barely got a drive to come over, but I'm a determined person," she said.
Tomas was moving to the northeast near 14 mph (22 kph) and tropical-storm-force winds extended as far as 140 miles (220 kilometers) from the center, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Forecasters warned of a dangerous storm surge that would generate "large and destructive waves" and raise water levels up to 3 feet (nearly 1 meter) above normal tide levels. It also predicted rainfall of 5 to 10 inches (12 to 25 centimeters) for much of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola.
Port-au-Prince's airport was expected to be closed through Friday, American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Sanderson said.
Post-earthquake reconstruction has barely begun and even the building of transitional shelters — sturdier than makeshift tents, but not solid houses — has been slow. Large installments of long-term funds, including a promised $1.15 billion from the United States, have not arrived. The State Department now says it still has to prove the money won't be stolen or misused.
As rebuilding lags, the United Nations and aid groups have been giving people reasons to stay in camps, providing aid and essential services such as medicine. That continued Thursday as residents reluctant to leave were given reinforcing tarps and other materials.
"We have always said that the best way to protect people in camps is to make camps as resistant as possible to any weather," said Imogen Wall, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "(Evacuation) doesn't make sense ... on a practical level, on a large scale."
Residents of the nearly 8,000-person government relocation camp at Corail-Cesselesse threw bottles at aid workers trying to get them to leave their ShelterBox tents for schools, churches and an abandoned prison nearby.
"If we go away, other people are going to move in our place! We want to stay here because we don't have another place to go," said 29-year-old Roland Jean.
Camp officials finally convinced several hundred people to leave Thursday afternoon on trucks provided by U.N. peacekeepers. An AP reporter found that while the school, church and abandoned hospital chosen as shelters for them were large and undamaged, they had no water or usable toilets.
As the hurricane neared Cuba's eastern tip, the country's crack civil defense forces evacuated 800 people from Baracoa, a city that often floods during inclement weather.
Meanwhile, a cold front hammered the western part of the island with heavy rains and a storm surge that flooded some low-lying parts of the capital, Havana, and closed the seaside Malecon thoroughfare.
In the Dominican Republic, to the east of Haiti, floods damaged at least 1,700 homes and forced the evacuation of more than 8,000 people, emergency operations director Juan Manuel Mendez said.
Tomas killed at least 14 people when it slammed the eastern Caribbean country of St. Lucia as a hurricane Saturday. It will cost roughly $500 million to repair flattened banana fields, destroyed houses, broken bridges and eroded beaches on the island, according to Prime Minister Stephenson King.
A hurricane warning was issued for the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, on the storm's path once it emerges from the strait between Haiti and Cuba.
In Little Inagua Island, the owners of the island's only grocery store brought in extra supplies this week to ensure no one would be short of food or plywood.
"It was a mad rush," said Father Glover, 27, a priest at St. Philips Anglican Church in Matthew Town, the island's only settlement. "A lot of people have been battering down the hatches and securing their homes."
The airport in Turks and Caicos closed on Friday as tourists observed the gathering storm clouds.
"It's a shame that we can't enjoy the stuff that we came here to do, but we are still going to stay," said Shelly Schulz, 37, of New York state, who arrived four days ago with her husband and three children.
Dozens of local residents, including Jacques Toussaint, 52, rushed to buy food and water at the last minute.
"I can't believe that with all the roughness that Turks and Caicos is going through, with the instability of government, a hurricane is going to come to make it worse," Toussaint said. "We can't take another disaster. I wish it would make a sharp turn."
Associated Press television producer Chris Gillette in Leogane, writers Jonathan M. Katz and Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Megan Reynolds in Nassau, Bahamas, Howard Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, Vivian Tyson in Turks and Caicos Islands, Paul Haven in Havana, Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic contributed to this report.