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Quake-hit Haitians leave tent cities for camp

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Haitians seek high ground ahead of rains
  • NEW: 60 people were first to be relocated from tent city to new camp Saturday
  • At old tent city, many tents in danger of being washed away, officials say
  • About 50,000 people have sought refuge at the Petionville Golf Club since the earthquake
  • Camp services will include health clinics, food distribution tent, security services, showers

(CNN) -- Officials in Haiti on Saturday moved the first people out of a ballooning tent city -- one of many erected in the wake of the 7.0-magnitude quake that devastated the country in January -- and into a new resettlement camp before the rainy season enters full swing.

About 50,000 people have sought refuge at the Petionville Golf Club since the quake killed more than 200,000 people and reduced large swaths of Haiti to rubble.

The once lush fairways and rolling hills of the golf course have been transformed into a teeming tent city where residents have set up vegetable markets, pharmacies and other makeshift businesses.

But early spring rains have already turned portions of the course into rivers of mud, and officials with the government and the International Organization for Migration fear that about 7,500 people are in danger now that the rainy season has officially begun.

Many of the residents' tents are located on a steep slope and are in danger of being washed away in mudslides, officials say. Engineers from the U.N. peacekeeping force, MINUSTAH, and the U.S. military have identified several other areas that need to be cleared to prevent flooding and mudslides in the rest of the camp, according to IOM.

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"With the rains arriving, the emergency is to relocate people," Haitian President Rene Preval told CNN on Saturday. "And once we've moved people, there will be other urgent matters, giving them services, schools, health care. ... Each phase is its own emergency."

Preval visited the golf course tent city for the first time Saturday, explaining that he wanted to monitor the first wave of relocations.

About 60 people took the hourlong bus ride Saturday from the tent city to the Corail Resettlement Camp, a site north of the Haitian capital that was prepared by IOM with help from military engineers and humanitarian groups.

"All we know is, there will be tents," said Pierre-Laura Donal, a husband and father who was relocating his family and waiting for the bus to come. "We don't know what to expect."

The U.N. started building the resettlement camp only a week ago, and much of it is still a barren landscape. Workers are still leveling the land, laying gravel to hold down the dust and setting up latrines and other basic services.

But the tents are a significant improvement over those on the golf course and will eventually be replaced by wooden shelters, planners say. Families arriving at the resettlement camp Saturday were grateful for welcome packages that included boxed meals.

The IOM says services at the Corail camp will eventually include: health clinics, a food distribution tent, security services to be provided by U.N. and Haitian police, distribution of hygiene kits, toilet and shower facilities, a learning area and child-friendly spaces operated by Save the Children.

On Saturday, though, there was disappointment among the first batch of arrivals. "They shouldn't have brought us here before they finished setting it up," said Donal's wife, who would not give her first name. "It's outrageous."

The relocation process is expected to take 10 days, IOM said.

Preval remained largely in a staging area at the camp on Saturday, talking to volunteers and meeting with actor and activist Sean Penn, whose Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief group helps manage the camp.

"The first three months, I didn't go to the camps, because the first day I went out, I saw that it was a task that was beyond Haiti," Preval said. "So I appealed to our international partners. ... Now it's time for me to go out in the field, to find out what people's real needs are."

CNN's Justine Redman contributed to this report.