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Haiti Braces for Tropical Storm Tomas

Map of Altantic tropical cyclone activity, 04 Nov 2010, 7:51 AM EDT

The Haitian government, U.N. agencies and other humanitarian groups are rushing to protect hundreds of thousands of at-risk Haitians, as forecasters warn of a tropical storm heading toward the Caribbean nation.

The United Nations says up to a half-million people could be affected by Tropical Storm Tomas. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Haiti could begin feeling the strong winds and rain of Tomas by late Thursday.

The Haitian government is evacuating earthquake survivors from crowded tent camps and moving them to temporary shelters, while aid groups are stockpiling crucial supplies across the nation. The U.N. has issued a plea to the international community for emergency supplies.

The United Nations says flooding, polluted waters and unsanitary conditions could worsen the cholera outbreak that is in five departments (provinces) in Haiti. Cholera has already killed more than 440 people.

More than a million people are still displaced by January's earthquake.

Forecasters say Haiti may be spared a direct hit from Tomas, but the storm could produce as much as 25 centimeters of rain and cause dangerous flash floods and mudslides.

The tropical storm, with maximum winds of about 75 kilometers per hour, is expected to strengthen to near-hurricane status in the next two days. The southeastern Bahamas, Turks and Caicos islands and Cuba have also issued hurricane warnings. At last report (1500 UTC), the storm was 475 kilometers southwest of Port-au-Prince.

Jamaica is under a tropical storm warning.

The U.S. military has sent the amphibious ship USS Iwo Jima to Haiti, to help provide humanitarian support.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.