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Tuesday, November 3, 1998 Published at 14:27 GMT

World: Americas

18,000 feared dead in Mitch disaster

El Salvador: Similar scenes are repeated across Central America

Up to 18,000 people are believed to have been killed in the storms which have devastated Central America.

BBC Special Correspondent Ben Brown reports from Nicaragua
Countries in the region have made an urgent appeal for aid following the floods and landslides.

Honduras has confirmed that 5,000 people were killed when it took the full force of Hurricane Mitch.

The government has said a further 11,000 are missing after the flooding caused by the storms.

[ image:  ]
In neighbouring Nicaragua, 2,000 are believed to be dead, at least 1,000 of them in a single mudslide at the Casita volcano.

El Salvador and Guatemala saw 150 and 100 deaths respectively. Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama were also hit by Mitch.

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.

600,000 homeless

Honduran officials say at least 600,000 - 10% of the nation's population - have been forced to flee their homes.

The storms are reported to have destroyed some 70% of the crops which form the backbone of the country's economy.

The Honduran President, Carlos Flores, said his country had been mortally wounded and desperately needed help.

[ image: Mitch has left many homeless in Honduras]
Mitch has left many homeless in Honduras
"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.

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, the government says damage to the country's road system is hampering efforts to help survivors.

Worst affected are those living in the remote north-west, where part of the Casita volcano collapsed in the heavy rain, engulfing several villages.

The authorities have proposed sealing off the area and declaring it a national cemetery.

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

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.

Peter Greste reports: "People becoming demoralised"
"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.

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 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: Battered and brusied ... but alive]
Battered and brusied ... but alive
"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.

Commander Colin Hamp, on HMS Sheffield, off the Honduras coast
The European Union has offered more than $8m worth of aid.

France has said it will send 23 disaster relief specialists and aid to the Central American countries hit by Mitch.

The British Royal Navy frigate, HMS Sheffield, is off the coast of Honduras helping the humanitarian effort.

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