|Towns in western Haiti were cut off from the outside world after flooding damaged already neglected roads [AFP]
Hurricane Tomas has lashed Haiti with fierce winds and rain, leaving seven people dead and prompting the main airport's closure.
Flooding cut off some parts of the country and authorities warned of the heightened risk of mudslides as rains continued off and on for hours on Saturday before the storm moved on to Cuba,
"All departures and arrivals at Toussaint Louverture airport (in the capital, Port-au-Prince) are cancelled. Normal traffic will resume on Saturday," airport authorities said in a statement.
The southern town of Leogane was completely under water, Philippe Joseph, a civil defence official, said, adding that in some parts of the town the water was three metres deep.
"We are going to have more victims because of the floods and mudslides, but we cannot yet reach the communities most affected," he said.
In Port-au-Prince, Haitians were up to their ankles in water in some of the huge refugee camps that have mushroomed around the city since a devastating earthquake struck, killing 250,000 people in January.
Camps withstood storm
But the canvas and tarpaulin shelters that hundreds of thousands of quake-survivors call home appeared to have withstood the storm better than expected, thanks to pre-storm preparations, including hastily dug drainage ditches and sandbag barriers.
However, seven people were reported killed in floods and house collapses elsewhere in Haiti.
Many smaller towns in western Haiti were cut off from the outside world after flooding damaged already neglected roads in rural areas that were difficult to pass in good weather.
|Camps appeared to have withstood the storm better than expected, thanks to pre-storm preparations [AFP]
The government said it had taken steps to accommodate as many as 100,000 people in schools, churches and hospitals - a fraction of the 1.3 million left homeless by January's earthquake.
The US State Department quoted Haiti's Department of Civil Protection as estimating that 50 per cent of the people living in resettlement camps "did leave of their own accord" to safer housing.
The centre of the category one storm was about 65km north of Haiti early on Saturday, and a hurricane warning for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was downgraded to a tropical storm warning, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
The storm, packing maximum winds of 120km per hour, was heading towards Turks and Caicos islands at 22km per hour.
The broad storm front, however, was still dumping rain on the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, parts of which could see 12.5 to 25 centimetres of rain, the NHC warned.
"These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides over mountainous terrain," it added.
Tomas threatened further havoc in impoverished Haiti just as the country battles a cholera outbreak that has killed 442 people.
"Dangerous landslides and heavy flooding could still worsen the cholera epidemic. Remain vigilant," Rene Preval, the Haitian president, urged, saying a massive aid distribution effort was being prepared once "the situation on the roads will permit".
Much of Haiti's population of just under 10 million people live in precarious conditions, vulnerable to natural disasters.
Mountainsides have been stripped of trees to be used as fuel, increasing the risk of landslides in wet weather.