PORT-AU-PRINCE — Hurricane Tomas sideswiped Haiti on Friday, wiping out homes in coastal villages, blocking roads to battered towns and flooding out residents still living among the ruins of Leogane, a town leveled by a powerful earthquake 10 months ago.
Tomas, churning toward the southeastern Bahamas, was expected to continue dumping sporadic, sometimes intense rain across Haiti through the night. But first-day damage reports suggested this snakebit nation -- for once -- had been spared another massive human catastrophe.
Though fears of dangerous flooding remained high as runoff from as much as 15 inches of rain drained into rising rivers, the confirmed death toll through Friday stood at four. Details were sketchy but one man drowned trying to cross the rising Glace River in a pickup truck, and two people were reported missing in mud-filled Leogane. Tomas had killed 14 as it crossed islands in the Eastern Caribbean.
Nigel Fisher, chief humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations, was cautiously optimistic, though he noted wider surveys still needed to be done.
"So far, we seem to have escaped the worst,'' he said. ``We've been fortunate it will not be the catastrophic damage we had predicted for Port-au-Prince.''
President Rene Preval, in a radio address from the command center on the grounds of the quake-collapsed palace, cautioned Haitians to take no chances until skies cleared. He credited a government campaign urging people to prepare for the storm for limiting loss of life -- a lesson he said also applied to the battle to contain a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 400 people.
"You can end up surviving the storms but end up dying of cholera,'' he warned.
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