The Defiance Before the Storm: Haitian Refugees Refuse to Flee

After devastating earthquake left them homeless, tent-dwellers weather storm.

Nov. 5, 2010 — -- A powerful hurricane is inching its way toward the vulnerable tent cities that surround Port-au-Prince, Haiti. But many of the residents who lost their homes to the devastating January earthquake are refusing to budge this time, even physically ejecting aid workers from their ramshackle camps.

Hurricane Tomas, a Category 1 hurricane with winds whipping up to 85 miles per hour, is due to make landfall today on the western end of the island nation where rain is already flooding parts of the country. The storm's outer bands are expected to pound its capital city, which was leveled less than a year ago in an earthquake that killed an estimated 250,000 people and left millions homeless.

Government aid workers used bull horns and leaflets to warn more than a million tent city residents to leave the refugee camps for safer grounds Thursday, but were driven away by the people they attempted to help.

At the teeming Corailles Cesselesse camp, a small crowd surrounding a pair of workers surged to hundreds who pushed and screamed at the workers until workers with the International Organization for Migration retreated to their vehicles and drove out of camp.

There was no real violence, but frustration was evident as people broke equipment and slammed debris on the ground. The crowd booed, trashed the tables and chairs the workers had brought with them, even ripped up the blue and orange bracelets the workers had hoped would mark the evacuees.

Some residents told ABC News that they would never leave because they were afraid they would not be allowed back. One man carried a small knapsack and homegrown gourd. It was all he had, he said, to feed his family for the next few days.

"This is all I have," one refugee, Kathleen Francois, told ABC News.

The mother of three, who'd lost her husband and her parents in the quake, had decorated her tent with plastic lilies and a pair of tattered bibles.

"God will save us. I am not willing to lose everything, again," she said.

Another refugee, 21-year-old Clarice Napoux, told the Associated Press, "I'm scared that if I leave they'll tear this whole place down. I don't have money to pay for a home somewhere else."

Napoux was living in a tent on a soccer field in nearby Petionville.

Rainfall on the western part of the nation has already been blamed for at least one death, the AP reported, citing Haitian radio.

The man was reportedly attempting to drive through a swollen river.

Health officials fear that the death toll could rise, not only because of the direct effects of the hurricane, but because the storm will cripple efforts to stem an outbreak of cholera.

Hurricane, Floods, Cholera: 'A Life and Death Situation'

Haitian health clinics have been battling a cholera outbreak for weeks, with more than 3,000 reported cases and nearly 300 resulting deaths.

"This couldn't be worse for their efforts to control cholera," ABC News senior health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser told "Good Morning America" today.

"The key to saving lives with cholera is rapid medical treatment," which will be harder to find in the devastation of a hurricane, Besser said.

The mountains around Port-au-Prince are relatively clear of forests, increasing the danger of flash floods sweeping down the hills and into the tent cities.

Combined with the effects of the storm, Besser said, "You're going to see major loss of life."

"It's like you're being knocked back to the period right after the earthquake," he said. "This is a life and death situation for the Haitians."