International News

Miami's Haitians Brace For Catastrophe As Tomas Bears Down On Port-Au-Prince

As Miami's Haitian community has struggled to help their homeland since January's earthquake, one fear has lingered always in the back of their minds: What if a hurricane blows through while half of Port-au-Prince is still stuck in tent cities?

That nightmare could become real by tomorrow morning, when Tropical Storm Tomas is projected to build into a Cat 1 and sweep over Haiti. The center of the storm could miss the capital, but Haitian-American leaders here are bracing for the worst.

Marleine Bastien, head of Fanm Aysiyen Nan Miyami, says families in Little Haiti have been coming to her office "crying and praying" with worry about the storm.

"They are gravely concerned. There's a sense of desperation and frustration," she says.

Bastien says Haitian government officials this morning told her they were trying to evacuate refugees in tents from low-lying areas, but that it wasn't clear where they could go for safety. Evacuation efforts today were disrupted by riots, Reuters reports.

"The bigger question is, why hasn't anything else been done in more than nine months? This is so cruel and irresponsible. How hard is it to move people from shelters to more stable housing?" Bastien says.

The latest forecasts have Tomas strengthening to a Category 1 sometime tomorrow. It's projected to pass to the west of Port-au-Prince, but could still bring several inches of rain. Even normal thunderstorms have caused scores of flooding deaths this summer in Haiti.

The psychological damage of yet another disaster could be even harder to surmount, Bastien says. "Why is it always Haiti?" Bastien says. "Haitians' faith is so strong and unwavering, but they are asking me, 'Why? Why would God do this again?'"

Most aid groups are waiting to see the extent of Tomas' damage before deciding how best to help, but Bastien says FANM is still taking general relief donations.

If you want to pitch in now, you can send checks labeled: "For Haiti Relief" and made out to Fanm, Inc., to this address:

181 NE 82nd Street
Miami, FL 33138

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink