Haiti is experiencing heavy rains as Hurricane Tomas bears down on the Caribbean country, putting at risk earthquake survivors sheltered in flimsy tents amid a cholera outbreak.
More than a million Haitians have been told to leave the camps, where they have been sheltering since January's earthquake.
Everton Fox, Al Jazeera's meteorologist, said that Tomas is now a category one hurricane with winds around 130 kilometres per hour and gusts of up to 160 kilometres per hour.
"Further strengthening of the wind is likely as it makes a direct line for the Turks and Caicos Islands."
The strengthening storm was expected to endanger the largely deforested land with gusting winds, surging waves and torrential rains of up to 40 centimetres in some areas.
Rene Preval, the Haitian president, went on national radio to urge citizens to take precautions and follow evacuation recommendations. "Protect your lives," he said.
A January 12 quake in Haiti killed more than 250,000 people in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.
About 1.3 million survivors still live in hundreds of makeshift tent camps crammed into open spaces in the wrecked capital Port-au-Prince. Camp dwellers hunkered down for a miserable night as rain fell steadily.
|Camp residents are seeking refuge with friends or family ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Tomas [AFP]
Al Jazeera's Craig Mauro, reporting from Jacmel in southern Haiti, said the UN and NGOs are struggling to provide shelter for the people who became homeless after the earthquake.
"There are 20 camps of earthquake victims near the city of Jacmel where there are about 10,000 people left homeless by the quake.
"They have been planning with the United Nations, NGOs and the mayor of Jacmel to make an evacuation centre, which is in the neighbourhood school."
Nigel Fisher, the head of UN mission in Haiti, told Al Jazeera that some people are reluctant to evacuate their camps.
"In the towns along the coast, churches, schools, warehouses have been identified as places to which people can go. These have been organised by the local authorities who know where the vulnerable areas are," Fisher said.
"In the camps we have more of a problem, the one problem we have is that a lot of people have actually been reluctant to leave."
Alleyways that run between a maze of tents at the Acra 2 camp, set on a steep hillside, had become impassable because of slippery mud and doing anything constructive was difficult, Wilson Almoza, a camp leader, said.
Some camp residents sought refuge with friends or family in more secure structures, but most huddled under their tent and tarpaulin homes as the rain fell.
"We have heard that there will be a storm but we don't know much about it and we haven't taken precautions. We are in God's hands," Ave Lise Mesila, in a white tarpaulin tent, said.
The UN said the hurricane will almost certainly exacerbate a cholera epidemic that has so far killed 442 people and sickened more than 6,700, according to government figures.
Tomas swept across the Caribbean's eastern islands as a hurricane during the weekend, killing at least five people in St Lucia. Several more people were missing.
At the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military officials warned the 174 foreign captives detained there that a storm was on the way, and laid in supplies of water and packaged meals.
"Detainees are secure in sound structures to ensure their safety and well being," Navy Commander Tamsen Reese, a spokeswoman for the detention operation, said.
Haitian schools are closed on Friday. Schools were also closed in parts of Jamaica, where Tropical Storm Nicole killed 15 people more than a month ago.
With the storm threat and the spreading cholera epidemic, Haiti faces major disruption less than a month before November 28 presidential and legislative elections.
Electoral officials have not moved to postpone the vote.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies