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Tuesday, November 3, 1998 Published at 05:10 GMT

World: Americas

Mitch victims appeal for aid

Survivors wait for helicopters to transport them to hospital

Central American nations have made an urgent appeal for aid in the wake of floods and landslides that are feared to have killed more than 6,000 people.

The BBC's Chris West: "The plight of the survivors is pitiful"
Hurricane Mitch - one of the strongest Atlantic storms to hit the region - has destroyed roads and bridges, swept away electricity and telephone polls, and flattened thousands of hectares of crops.

In Honduras, the official death toll is 350, but emergency services say the figure could be as high as 5,000. Officials say at least 600,000 - 10% of the nation's population - had been forced to flee their homes.

[ image: Mitch has left many homeless in Honduras]
Mitch has left many homeless in Honduras
The Honduran President, Carlos Flores, said his country had been mortally wounded and desperately needed help.

"We have before us a panorama of death, desolation and ruin in all of the national territory," the president said in a nationally broadcast speech.

"There are corpses everywhere, victims of the landslides or of the waters," Mr Flores said.

Central America Correspondent Peter Greste: "Half-a-million people have been forced to flee their homes."
With looting a growing problem, the president announced he was declaring a night-time curfew and a "state of exception" - equivalent to a state of siege - which lifts constitutional limits on searches, seizures, arrests and detentions for 15 days.

In Nicaragua, officials are reporting about 1,000 deaths. The government says damage to the country's road system is hampering efforts to help survivors.

Over 600 people died in one incident alone in the remote north-west when the side of a volcano collapsed after heavy rain, engulfing several villages.

Fearing outbreaks of disease, the Nicaraguan Red Cross is appealing for food, water, and medicine.

Official reports say 150 people have been killed in El Salvador and many other countries have also been affected.

Further rain is expected as Hurricane Mitch, which has been downgraded to a tropical depression, moves over Guatemala and into southern Mexico.

'Help can't wait'

As the death toll continues to rise, the International Red Cross has tripled its appeal for aid to $7.4m.

"It is almost impossible to get an overview of damage in this huge region, but help can't wait," said Santiago Gil, head of the Americas Department of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Nora Campos de Lankes: "Never seen such a thing"
Both Nicaragua and Honduras have appealed for international assistance to help them cope with the devastation.

Nicaragua's Ambassador to the UK, Nora Campos de Lankes, said Nicaragua lacked the infrastructure to deal with the disaster, and the most urgent need was for helicopters.

"The areas which are the worst affected cannot be reached, as the army only has five helicopters," he told the BBC.

Roberto Flores: "Communities are isolated"
The Honduran ambassador to Britain, Roberto Flores, said help was needed to get supplies to isolated communities.

"We are trying to establish air bridges to take food and medicines to these people but it is very difficult," he said.

'Terrible tragedy'

United States President Bill Clinton has described Hurricane Mitch as a "terrible tragedy" for Central America.

[ image: British navy personnel are helping the injured in Honduras]
British navy personnel are helping the injured in Honduras
"Our prayers here at the White House go out to the citizens of Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala who have suffered so much as a result of Hurricane Mitch and are trying to put their lives back together," he said in a radio interview with Hispanic journalists.

He said the US had provided $2m in food, medicine, water and other emergency relief supplies.

Two US cargo planes had already arrived with sheeting for shelter, and another was taking off on Monday with more help, he said.

France has said it will send 23 disaster relief specialists and aid to the Central American countries hit by Mitch. The UK Government has sent a frigate, HMS Sheffield, to Honduras, to help the humanitarian effort there.

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