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Finally, a Lucky Break for Haiti

One of the more than 1.3 million people still living in tent cities in Haiti. Sebastian Petion/CBS News

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — Devastated by an earthquake 10 months ago and by a cholera epidemic over the past two weeks, Haiti dodged a bullet when Hurricane Tomas only struck a glancing blow to the country this week.

But the close call only serves to illustrate how unprepared the poorest country in the Western hemisphere is for another disaster.

With more than a million people still living in tents left over from earthquake relief supplies, the Haitian government did far too little, far too late to mitigate the possible effects of a major storm. At a tent city on the outskirts of the capital, a rapidly-rising river threatened to flood a community of more than a hundred families.

Police moved to evacuate the tents just hours before the storm could have devastated the camp, only to be told by the people there that they had nowhere else to go, and didn't want to leave their makeshift homes.

The police left — the people didn't.

Gallery: Haiti Dodges a Bullet
Tomas Loses Hurricane Status After Soaking Haiti

Events like this played out across the city, as water suppliers scrambled to get clean water in place to avoid any contamination that can come after a hurricane sweeps through. Local health officials here warned that the cholera epidemic could spread exponentially if a hurricane disrupted the water supply.

Despite those efforts, many Haitians still drank from overflowing rivers, surrounded by trash from overtaxed sewage systems.

Haiti did not emerge from Tomas completely unscathed. Seven people died due to flooding, and the cholera epidemic has so far claimed more than 400 lives. But the death toll would have been much higher had the hurricane made a direct hit on the island.

The Haitian government got lucky this time. History shows it's unlikely their luck will hold out.

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