No longer a hurricane, Tropical Storm Tomas swirled over warm Caribbean waters Monday and forecasters warned it could regain power and threaten the crowded quake refugee camps in Haiti.
The storm already has been blamed for five deaths in the eastern Caribbean, where tiny islands were still assessing the damage from the hurricane that swept through over the weekend with winds near 100 mph.
Tomas slipped under the threshold for a hurricane Sunday evening. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami predicted more weakening before it begins to strengthen again around midweek.
At that point, Tomas is expected to veer northward in the general direction of Haiti, where some 1.3 million people are living under tarps and in tents that are vulnerable to heavy rains and wind.
Daniel Brown, a center forecaster, said Tomas is “likely to strengthen when it’s over the central Caribbean,” and Haiti could be hit by rains from outer bands in another couple of days.
Early Monday, Tomas’ maximum sustained winds had decreased to near 50 mph. The storm was located about 135 miles northeast of Curacao and was moving west near 14 mph.
Brown said it was too early to say how strong Tomas could become later in the week or if Haiti might suffer a direct hit. But, he added, “there’s certainly going to be the threat of heavy rainfall” in the impoverished nation, where widespread deforestation and ramshackle homes mean even moderate rains can cause devastation.
Aid workers in Haiti fear the worst. Hundreds of thousands of people there have only rudimentary shelter nearly 10 months after the Jan. 12 earthquake, and a cholera epidemic has killed more than 330 and hospitalized nearly 5,000.
“It’s just so complex and it’s very serious,” said Imogen Wall of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “We are so stretched already with the cholera, and we are running a daily earthquake response as well.”
Food and fuel were being stockpiled in southern areas expected to be most directly affected by Tomas, and emergency shelter materials were being distributed to the camps in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
But with no shelters or organized evacuation plans — and for most people, nowhere to go — Haitians will largely be on their own.
In St. Lucia, where Tomas tore off roofs and toppled power lines, at least five deaths have been blamed on the storm.