PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - Hurricane Tomas weakened to a tropical storm on Saturday after it lashed Haiti's crowded camps for earthquake survivors and coastal towns, triggering flooding and mudslides that killed at least seven people.
The center of the storm was passing over the Turks and Caicos islands and its maximum sustained winds had fallen to 70 miles per hour (110 kph), the US National Hurricane Center said in its latest bulletin.
Tomas was moving northeast at 15 mph (24 kph) and was likely to weaken slowly over the next couple of days, it said.
Haitian authorities, struggling with the devastation of January's earthquake and a deadly cholera outbreak, believed the worst from Tomas was over but the meteorologists warned of more rain for parts of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Turks and Caicos.
"Now that, relatively speaking, Haiti has escaped the danger, we have to continue to be vigilant," Haitian President Rene Preval said at the presidential palace on Friday.
Four people died in the southwestern province of Grande Anse, two in South province and one at Belle Anse in South-East province, said Haiti's civil protection director, Alta Jean-Baptiste.
Scattered flooding was reported in the coastal towns of Les Cayes, Jacmel and Leogane.
In the capital Port-au-Prince, still scarred by the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed a quarter of a million people, hundreds of thousands of homeless survivors huddled under rain-drenched tent and tarpaulin shelters in muddy encampments.
The United Nations and relief agencies have gone on maximum alert to prepare for the possibility of another humanitarian catastrophe in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the storm could have dealt a far worse blow.
"We have been incredibly lucky," OCHA spokeswoman Imogen Wall said, while noting that "the flooding is still serious, particularly in Leogane, because of the cholera situation."
The United Nations said the storm almost certainly will exacerbate a cholera epidemic that has killed 442 people and sickened more than 6,700 so far.
With threats of floods and the spreading cholera epidemic, Haiti faces major disruption just weeks before presidential and legislative elections on Nov. 28. Electoral officials have not postponed the vote.
Tomas swept across the Caribbean's eastern islands as a hurricane last weekend, killing at least five people in St. Lucia before weakening to a tropical storm and then regaining strength as a hurricane.
Jamaica escaped major damage on Friday but rains forced the evacuation of several thousand people in eastern Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbor on Hispaniola island.
As Tomas bore down, only some of the 1.3 million earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince were able to evacuate the temporary camps to more secure structures, schools and government shelters.
"Heavy rains did not come but I'm still not happy because my home has lots of holes in it and a lot of water got inside,"said Solange Louis-Charles, 40, as she washed plates outside a house made of corrugated iron and tarpaulins.
Forecasters warned that rain still could produce flash flooding and mudslides in deforested Haiti, where impoverished peasants have for decades cut down trees for firewood and left the hills and mountains bare and eroded.
Floods and mudslides from tropical storms and hurricanes in 2004 and 2008 killed several thousand people in Haiti, especially in the northwest coastal city of Gonaives.
International donors have enough blankets, water containers and hygiene kits to care for 125,000 people.
The World Food Program had stockpiled enough supplies to feed more than 1 million people for six weeks, said Mark Ward, director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance at the US Agency for International Development.
The USS Iwo Jima was ready to send in helicopters, landing craft, engineers and public health officials, Ward said.