The Miami Herald
November 3, 1998
Storm deluge lingers over Central America
Known deaths climb to 1,700; Honduras, Nicaragua in shock

             Herald Staff Writers

             SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- It is still pouring, a torrent of tears now that
             the rain is gone from Honduras and Nicaragua -- two nations in shock.

             ``We have before us a panorama of death, desolation and ruin throughout the
             national territory,'' said Carlos Flores Facusse, president of Honduras, in an
             emotional speech broadcast nationally.

             The most credible reports issued Monday on Hurricane Mitch's carnage were
             about 1,700 deaths in all of Central America, but that is only the sum of fatalities
             witnessed and bodies recovered.

             Some estimates were much higher, up to 7,000 deaths, based partly on tragedies
             known but not yet tallied and on assumptions that greater losses are yet to be
             discovered in places like Posoltega, Nicaragua. It is feared that 2,800 may have
             perished there.

             ``We will probably never know how many people died,'' said Dimas Alonzo of the
             Honduras National Emergency Committee.

             ``There are corpses everywhere, victims of landslides or of the waters,'' President
             Flores said. ``The most conservative calculations of the dead are in the thousands,
             not in the hundreds.''

             It was still raining dangerously Monday in Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico,
             where casualty reports kept coming.

             Many areas of both Nicaragua and Honduras were still inaccessible Monday --
             cut off by washed-out roads, broken bridges and flood water still too deep to

             Emergency agencies in both countries are afraid they will find many more bodies
             when it is possible to search. They may have to concede the loss of many who
             must have been carried out to sea by overflowed rivers.

             The reported toll of mostly known deaths Monday afternoon was 254 in
             Honduras and 1,200 in Nicaragua.

             Help for the isolated

             ``We cannot cope with the huge demand for rescue, so we are trying to give food
             to those who are most isolated, hoping they will hold out until we can evacuate
             them,'' Honduran Navy Lt. Oscar Flores said.

             The government reported that at least 100 bridges were washed out or made
             impassable by the hurricane. Many highways remained under water too deep for
             driving, and there were not enough boats.

             In San Pedro Sula alone, at least 2,000 people waited for evacuation Monday
             after military and civilian teams using small boats took 1,500 people to firmer
             ground on Sunday, Flores said.

             In the small northern city of El Progreso, many parents tied their children to
             treetops to save them from the rising waters as they awaited rescue, said Juan
             Bendeck, a local official.

             In the southeastern region of Choluteca, some 5,000 people awaited rescue. ``If it
             does not come, they could die,'' said Gen. Mario Hung Pacheco, the armed forces
             chief of staff.

             Hung Pacheco thinks as many as 11,000 people are missing in Honduras.

             Nicaraguan Vice President Enrique Bolaños estimated that 63,000 families, about
             450,000 people, were made homeless by Mitch in his country.

             More floods, avalanches

             Neighboring countries were inundated, too, as the storm and its relentless rain
             spread across the mountains toward the Pacific and started floods and avalanches
             that were still happening Monday.

             El Salvador reported 144 deaths and about 700,000 people homeless. Guatemala
             reported 27 new deaths, raising its total to 82, including 14 in the capital and 13 in
             the interior.

             Eleven of those, including a pilot and 10 American medical workers with the Living
             Waters evangelical group, were in a C-47 cargo plane that crashed into a hillside
             near the town of San Andreas Xecul on Sunday. Seven other Americans were
             injured. The mission has headquarters in Caddo Mills, Texas, and in
             Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. It has worked in Central America for 20 years.

             Bill Mickler, pastor of the Victory Christian Center, a nondenominational
             charismatic church in Lafayette, Ind., confirmed the death of Indiana missionary
             Melvin Hughes, 57.

             Doctors at the Jose Felipe Flores Hospital in Guatemala said the other dead
             included James Zircle and his son, James Zircle Jr., Thomas Vander Pool, Susan
             Aldridge, Dale Graff, Willard Granger, Kevin Brittian, John Ronald Bryson and
             Christopher Brian Hanbirger.

             Costa Rica has blamed Mitch for seven deaths, Panama and Mexico one each.

             Mitch was virtually windless Monday, not even a tropical depression any longer,
             but the leftovers remained dangerous to southwestern Mexico and to Guatemala.

             Honduran authorities said large numbers of snakes have been driven out of the
             jungle by the storm, and the government is including snake-bite kits in the supplies
             being shipped to refugees. The officials appealed for international donations of
             medicine to treat diarrhea, caused by the failing water supply, and foot fungus,
             now breaking out among refugees whose feet have been continuously wet for a

             Fears for Honduras

             Even though Nicaragua was ahead in fatalities counted, those who know
             Honduras well expect it to come out worse in the end. A case in point: 1974
             Hurricane Fifi, with much weaker wind, killed a stunning but realistically estimated
             10,000 Hondurans in exactly the same way Mitch worked.

             Fifi followed roughly the same path as Mitch, but with one important difference: It
             kept moving. Mitch stopped with its center just offshore for three days, its worst
             wind enveloping the Bay Islands and half its stormy circulation over land.

             Honduras is a country of mountains and valleys, veined with rivers and spotted
             with little towns built right on the river banks. In many such locations, large but
             undocumented numbers of poor people live in flimsy huts made of scrap wood,
             metal and even cardboard. Fifi washed many of them downstream, into the
             Caribbean, lost forever. In the cities where they had camped -- Tela, La Ceiba,
             Trujillo and others -- nobody knew who or how many they were.

             Mitch repeated the same scenes, 24 years later, only worse. Fifi hit mainly the
             north side of the country, along and above the Caribbean Sea. Mitch reached
             across to the Pacific side.

             Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Managua
             and the senior religious figure in Nicaragua, was among those trying to put the
             catastrophe into some sort of context.

             ``I have seen earthquakes, droughts, two wars, cyclones and tidal waves,'' he said,
             ``but this is undoubtedly the worst thing that I have ever seen.''


                               Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald