Port Au Prince Dodges The Hurricane

Hurricane Tomas damaged the western coast of Haiti but spared the nation's capital. Port au Prince is still devastated by January's earthquake, with more than a million refugees living in tents. Host Scott Simon gets the latest from NPR's Jason Beaubien.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Tropical Storm Tomas is barreling through the Caribbean this morning, but it was Hurricane Tomas when it hit the western coast of Haiti yesterday but bypassed the Haitian capital where more than a million earthquake survivors are still living in tents.

NPR's Jason Beaubien joins us from Port-au-Prince. Jason, thanks for being with us.

JASON BEAUBIEN: It's good to be with you.

SIMON: And how much damage did the storm do?

BEAUBIEN: We're still getting reports of exactly how much damage it did across Haiti. There was some flooding in the south of the country. In the west, in Leogane, there was some heavy flooding. We're getting some reports of deaths from there. Also, Gonaives, which flooded quite badly in 2008, experienced some flooding.

But the important thing is Port-au-Prince managed to miss the brunt of this storm. We didn't get the heavy winds. We did get a lot of rain. But the bulk of the people who were affected by this earthquake are still in and around Port-au-Prince in these camps. And the great fear was that hurricane-force winds were going to come in and just rip these camps to shreds, rip these tents, these tarps, and that didn't happen.

So a lot of people are really breathing a sigh of relief here in Haiti that this storm was not as bad as people worried that it would be.

SIMON: Jason, you've spent a good amount of time in Haiti since the earthquake killed 200,000 people in January. It's been 10 months now and how have conditions in those camps improved or not?

BEAUBIEN: Things have improved since the first early weeks when people didn't have toilets, when there wasn't any water. But things haven't significantly improved in recent months. Things are pretty much at a plateau. People are living in tents, they're living under tarps, they're living in just shacks that they constructed out of whatever they could pull together and a lot of people are just stuck at sort of that level.

There are some organized camps which are somewhat better in that they're all the same type of tents - they're better tents, they're stronger - but then they were trying to evacuate one of those during this approaching hurricane because it was on a flood plain and there was concerns and that turned into complete chaos as some people wanted to be evacuated, some people felt it was a trick.

So things remain incredibly tenuous for people. People feel incredibly vulnerable and there's a sense that things aren't moving forward, that they're just stuck in these camps and it's unclear when they're going to get out.

SIMON: Well, what are the signs of rebuilding in Haiti and Port-au-Prince specifically?

BEAUBIEN: Things are moving somewhat better in terms of the rubble removal, but that's just in terms of the incredible amount of rubble that needs to get moved out of this city. That is still going on. If you just drive around, it's kind of amazing. In some neighborhoods it looks like the place was just hit with an earthquake. There are areas that really haven't gotten any rubble removal at all going on.

So things are also moving quite slowly on that front. You're not getting much in terms of new construction. You are getting some, but very limited. For the most part the rubble removal, still 10 months later, remains the big challenge and it's clear that this is going to be a very, very long haul process.

SIMON: And I suppose we should note there's still a little while left in the hurricane season too, isn't there?

BEAUBIEN: There is, and that's still of great concern because the vulnerability that people had when they were concerned about this storm coming through, that can happen again. And people are not getting moved into anything, for the most part, into more permanent shelter. Some people are getting moved into some temporary shelters, but again, that's limited.

SIMON: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thanks so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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