- Associated Press - Sunday, October 31, 2010

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (AP) — Hurricane Tomas weakened slightly Sunday after tearing off roofs and downing power lines in the eastern Caribbean. Forecasters said the storm could gain force and veer toward earthquake-stunned Haiti, where some 1.3 million people in tarps and tents are vulnerable to heavy rains and wind.

The hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, was moving toward the west-northwest and was expected to turn toward Haiti later in the week.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said some more weakening is forecast during the next 24 hours before the storm begins to grow again.

Daniel Brown, a center forecaster, said that Tomas was “likely to strengthen when it’s over the central Caribbean” and that Haiti could be hit by rains from outer bands in another few days.

Aid workers fear the worst if Tomas strikes Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of people 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.”

As of Sunday, no deaths and few injuries had been reported from Tomas in a cluster of islands at the Caribbean Sea’s eastern entrance.

Authorities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines said two workmen were hospitalized after they were blown off a roof during the hurricane’s passage.

St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said fierce winds tore roofs from scores of homes and more than 1,000 people sought emergency shelter as the islands plunged into darkness. Widespread flooding triggered landslides that cut off as many as 30 roads, marooning hundreds of residents.

“I have been told that over 300 houses have suffered some level of damage,” Mr. Gonsalves said Sunday. “There is also serious damage to fruit trees, bananas and other infrastructure, and this is going to cost the state millions.”

Chief Agricultural Officer Reuben Robertson said, “Most of our farmers have taken a serious beating.”

On the nearby island of St. Lucia, high winds tore off the roofs of a hospital, a school and a stadium and toppled a large concrete cross from the roof of a century-old church, government officials said. Heavy rains caused a landslide that blocked a main highway linking the capital to the island’s southern region.

St. Lucians were deluged by 21 hours of sustained rain, starting Saturday morning. By Sunday afternoon, dead animals floated in swollen rivers, and people in the capital of Castries took to streets and sidewalks to clear broken branches, glass shards and other debris.

At least 20,000 people were without power on Martinique, and streets flooded and tree branches were down. A cruise ship carrying nearly 2,000 tourists docked instead in Dominica.

Tomas earlier toppled power lines and damaged houses in Barbados as a tropical storm.

Forecasts said omas, Atlantic season’s 12th hurricane, could drop up to 6 inches of rain in the region. Rain still was drenching the eastern Caribbean islands on Sunday.

Food and fuel are being positioned in southern areas of Haiti expected to be most directly affected by Tomas. Emergency shelter materials already were being distributed to the sprawling camps of quake survivors in Port-au-Prince.

But with no shelters or organized evacuation plans — and for most people, nowhere to go — Haitians largely will be on their own.

Associated Press writers Jonathan M. Katz in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Guy Ellis in Castries, St. Lucia; and Rodolphe Lamy in Fort-de-France, Martinique, contributed to this report.

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