The Miami Herald
November 13, 2001

Gas shortages, storms delay relief for flooded Honduras, Nicaragua


 MANAGUA -- Heavy rains and gasoline shortages have stalled relief missions destined for tens of thousands of Honduran and Nicaraguan flooding victims who lost
 homes, crops and animals in more than two weeks of downpours.

 Nearly 90,000 people in northern Honduras and Nicaragua have been under water since storms began here Oct. 25. Some have been without food for days, officials said. In Honduras, relief workers have been unable to bring aid to Mosquitia for eight days, said Hugo Arévalo, deputy commissioner of the Honduran emergency management committee.

 ``Choppers took off but had to turn back; they just couldn't fly in those conditions,'' Arévalo said. ``It's an extremely difficult situation.''

 The Oct. 25 tropical storm lasted five days. On Halloween, it picked up again. Those storms turned into Hurricane Michelle, which on Nov. 3 unleashed more water on an already-saturated region.

 Authorities could not reach the victims by land, because bridges and roads were washed out. Aerial missions in Honduras were continuously suspended Saturday and Sunday because of relentless storms.

 Arévalo said the Honduran government declared a yellow alert in six departments. So far, the government has counted 61,000 victims, mostly in Cortés and Yoro. Another 25,000 people were evacuated, 1,229 homes damaged, and 73 were destroyed.

 Seven people in Honduras were killed and another 14 are still missing. Five died in Nicaragua.

 Worst off were rural communities that live on the banks of swelling rivers. The crops they live off are underwater, killing more than 60,000 acres of rice, yucca and beans -- 70 percent of the country's crop, according to the Honduran Red Cross.

 ``The thing is that it's not intermittent rain -- it's all-day and all-night rain,'' said Sabrina Quezada, spokeswoman for the World Food Program in Nicaragua. ``The mayor of Puerto Cabezas told me that in 40 years, he's never seen rain like that.''

 Aid delivery was also stymied in Nicaragua because fuel supplies were cut off due to the floods. Food deliveries were expected to continue Monday, with the expected arrival of a Venezuelan ship carrying gasoline.

 ``There are places you can reach by boat, but there are no motors,'' Quezada said. ``Then there are places you can reach by car, but there is no gas.''

 The Nicaraguan Air Force had been providing aerial aid lifts, but suspended the operations because it cost $4,000 a flight, Quezada said.

 In Nicaragua, 62 northern towns were rained out, affecting 25,650 people, including 18,000 who lost either a house, crops or farm animals. In Puerto Cabezas -- a coastal city on the Atlantic Coast -- 12,107 people were flooded and and 827 homes damaged.

 Nicaraguan Civil Defense Lt. Col. Mario Pérez-Cassar said 309 tons of food is on its way by land from the capital.

                                    © 2001