By JULIE WATSON
SANTA CATARINA, Honduras -- Calixto Carranza was planting watermelons
in a field flooded by Hurricane Mitch when he spotted something in the dirt.
After years of farming near the Nicaraguan border, he had seen his share
anti-personnel mines left over from civil wars in the 1980s -- small blue cans with
metal sprouts out the top -- but this looked like a wheel rim.
In fact, it was an anti-tank mine, much more powerful than the mines he
have recognized. When he poked it with the point of his machete, the blast threw
him 80 feet into the air. His body fell to the ground in pieces, according to
Workers spent years compiling maps of the tens of thousands of mines left
Central America. But flooding unleashed by Hurricane Mitch a month ago
scattered many of those mines across fields and villages. Nobody knows where
they wound up.
``We know the waters displaced land mines, but we don't know how much,
will probably mean it will take more money and time to finish sweeping areas,''
said Colombian army Lt. Col. Guillermo Leal, chief of the Organization of
American States' mission to clear Central America of land mines.
Meanwhile, farmers worry that they may unwittingly become the detectors.
the hurricane, land mines have killed three farmers and injured eight in Nicaragua
``We're terrified to return to the fields,'' said 17-year-old Genaro Funez,
jaw was broken in the blast that killed his cousin, Carranza, in the town of Santa
Catarina, 12 miles from the border.
Carranza, 34, was working in the watermelon fields with 14 people Nov.
explosion threw all of them to the ground. Another of Carranza's cousins,
17-year-old Candido Ortiz, died half an hour later in the field, his side blown open
from the blast.
Help was nine miles away. Funez walked with a broken jaw. A 13-year-old
stumbled through the mud and debris left by the hurricane, part of his forearm
The others -- some cut by flying shrapnel -- followed, carrying 19-year-old
Enrique Linares in a hammock because of his broken thigh.
``I'm in so much pain,'' Linares said at the hospital. ``But I don't have
the money to
buy pain medicine.''
Despite a three-year effort to remove them, more than 70,000 land mines
in the ground in Nicaragua. The hurricane significantly altered their locations,
In central Nicaragua this week, the army began minesweeping outside the
Muy Muy under a destroyed bridge, where officials found anti-personnel mines
poking through the mud.
In nearby Waslala, 16-year-old Bernardo Ocampo Gonzalez died Friday after
floating mine hit him and detonated as he bathed in a river.
Nicaraguan officials planned to map out their strategy this week. Meanwhile,
OAS, with the help of U.S. experts, was using satellites to see how far the rivers
could have carried the mines.
No one knows how many land mines remain in Honduras, or who put them there
as Nicaragua's civil war spilled across the border.
Dr. Enrique Sandoval, director of Honduras' Hospital Sur near the border,
more than 75 land mine victims from 1988 to 1994 under a government
rehabilitation program. Most of the patients were young, poor farmers.
``We know this instrument of death still exists here a decade after a war
never ours,'' he said. ``They were left here indiscriminately without any care about
the suffering they could cause.''
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald