December 1, 1998
Honduras lowers Mitch death toll to 5,657


                  TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- Honduras announced Tuesday that it
                  suspended a governor for inflating her region's death toll from Hurricane
                  Mitch. It also lowered its official death count by 1,350 people.

                  The new death toll of 5,657 was compiled after the government sent teams
                  to verify reports from regions across Honduras, the Interior Secretariat said

                  The governor, Lucila Esperanza Barahona de Castro of the Santa Barbara
                  region in remote northwestern Honduras, was suspended after investigators
                  could verify only 282 of the 1,159 deaths reported in her area.

                  Authorities said the suspension was standard procedure during an inquiry.

                  Barahona told The Associated Press she couldn't have falsified the numbers
                  because she didn't even give a death toll to the federal government.

                  "I don't know what source gave them the numbers," she said Tuesday.

                  In addition to the 5,657 dead, Honduras said it had verified 8,058 missing,
                  12,272 injured and 1.4 million homeless throughout the country.

                  Aid workers and journalists began questioning Honduras' estimated death
                  toll after figures jumped drastically Nov. 2, two days after news broke of a
                  landslide in Nicaragua that covered two villages and killed up to 2,000

                  That day, Honduras' official death toll jumped from 600 to 5,000. Later,
                  authorities raised the figure to 6,400, then last week to 7,007.

                  Luis Torres, spokesman for the committee overseeing the relief effort, told
                  The Associated Press that "all the information is being verified by the
                  mayors' offices, the army, the police, public and private rescue groups and
                  the authorities of the 18 provinces of the country."

                  The revised figure from Honduras lowers the overall death toll in Central
                  America from Hurricane Mitch to 9,071.

                  Meanwhile, Honduras' legislature restored its bill of rights, which was
                  suspended Nov. 2 when flooding from Mitch sparked looting and banditry,
                  and ended an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Lawmakers said the emergency had
                  been overcome.

                  The government also reversed its explanation for a helicopter crash that
                  killed the overwhelmingly popular mayor of the capital, Cesar Castellanos, a
                  50-year-old neurosurgeon who was considered the top candidate to
                  become Honduras' next president.

                  Officials had blamed mechanical failure, but said Tuesday that human error
                  caused the crash, which occurred while Castellanos was surveying hurricane

                  "Pilot Jose Miranda caused the tragedy when he made an unplanned
                  maneuver, which caused the craft the crash into high-tension cables and fall
                  to the ground," Judge Dagoberto Aspra said Tuesday.

                  He spoke after listening to audiotapes of communications between the pilot
                  and the control tower.

                  Miranda was also killed in the crash.

                  Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.