PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- With strong winds leaving Haitians homeless even before Tropical Storm Issac’s arrival Friday, disaster officials stepped up their calls for Haitians living in vulnerable areas to evacuate to safer ground.
“Isaac is a threat to the entire country,” said Ronald Semelfort, director of Haiti’s National Weather Center. “All of the country could experience rainfall.”
But even with this warning, some continued to resist efforts to evacuate ahead of the storm. Many said they feared that leaving the camps would mean having thieves steal what meager possessions they had, or even worse give the government and aid groups an opportunity to completely shut the camp down without giving them alternative living arrangements.
“We have no trust in anyone,” said Carlo Destine, 34, a resident in camp Marassa, which is located just steps away from a dangerous river in the city of Croix-des-Bouquets.
On Friday as the winds began picking up and the rain began drizzling over a quake-battered Port-au-Prince, aid workers aborted an evacuation effort to relocate women and children to a nearby shelter.
“We’ve lived through this before, we’re not afraid,” said Lucien Pierre, 28, a mother of two, including a one-year-old, washing clothes outside her tent. “We’ll pray and watch.”
In fact, hundreds were praying inside the camp, attending an 8 a.m. prayer service that ended shortly after 2 p.m. in a dirt field near the river.
“They don’t want to live here, but their circumstances leave them no other choice,” said Pastor Jean-Gabriel Jules, who led the revival. “What you are hearing from the people is a lack of confidence in the government. They have been here three years and nothing has changed for them.”
Jules said at best, he encouraged worshippers to “maintain their faith in God, and protect their documents in plastic bags.”
“God is not an evil God,’’ he said.
Haitian authorities identified 1,250 shelters throughout the country, 500 of them in the capital. The International Organization for Migration opened about 45 of them as part of a pre-evacuation, spokesman Leonard Doyle said.
An initial 18 camps were targeted for evacuations into 14 shelters, mostly schools that had been repaired to accommodate people for at least 72 hours.
At Jean-Marie Vincent High School in Tabarre, quake refugees from another tent city, Megal 4, arrived by the busloads, carrying tiny bags of clothing. One woman even showed up with her mattress, her most valuable possession after the quake.
Marie-Paulette Mervil, 45, who was injured in the quake and now walks with a cane, arrived with 12 children; six are hers, the others of her sister who died in the quake.
“People would like to evacuate, but they are afraid that when they return they won’t find anything,” said Mervil, who asked two neighbors to keep an eye on her tent inside the camp.
Her reason for leaving: “The place leaks and when it rains the children just sit and get wet.”
Still, the school building offered little comfort. It was the first time she would be sleeping in a concrete structure since the quake nearly buried her in rubble.
“I thought the place they were bringing us too would have tin roofs. Now I see it’s cement. I am a bit scared,’’ she said.