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Monday, November 9, 1998 Published at 18:22 GMT

World: Americas

Mitch survivor: My six-day ordeal

[ image: Mrs Arriola: I cried every day]
Mrs Arriola: I cried every day
A woman who spent six days in the ocean after being washed away by Hurricane Mitch has told how her son was snatched from her arms as she battled to stay alive.

Laura Arriola de Guity made international headlines when she was found 80 kilometres out into the Caribbean Sea after nearly a week clinging to debris.

She had lost her family and her home. All she had was a makeshift raft.

Click here to watch her story on BBC One's Here and Now programme.

The 36-year-old teacher, now recovering in hospital, wept as she described her terrifying ordeal in the storm which killed at least 11,000 people in Central America.

The BBC's David Loyn reports on Laura Arriola de Guity's incredible survival
Mrs Arriola and her family lived in the village of Barra de Aguan, three kilometres from the sea and more than a kilometre from the river.

But when Hurricane Mitch battered the Honduran coast on 28 October the sea and river merged into what seemed like a single body of water.

Her house was washed away and the family sought refuge at a neighbour's. But the river ripped through, sweeping them out to sea.

Trying to stay afloat

Mrs Arriola clung to her four-year-old son and shouted at her husband to grab their 10-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter.

But the raging waters quickly tore her son from her arms.

"I tried to float so I could see over the water," she told Associated Press in an interview from hospital.

"I swam and swam, trying to save him, trying to get to somewhere dry. And then I realised I was already in the sea."

She never saw her family again.

[ image: Mitch: The most deadly storm in 200 years]
Mitch: The most deadly storm in 200 years
Mrs Arriola clung to floating palm branches for four hours.

She made a small raft out of tree roots, branches and a mortar board floating in the water.

"I was thinking, I was begging God to let someone find me and rescue me," she said. "But there was no one. No one saw me"

She kept herself alive on coconuts, pineapples and oranges drifting in the ocean.

But rough seas meant she got little rest and she was knocked off the raft several times.

"The worst part for me was after being with my whole family, with my children, my husband, that I could be so alone in the sea without seeing anybody," she said.

"I cried every day. Day and night I cried and screamed. I was praying, worshipping."

When she wasn't crying she tried to keep her spirits up singing religious songs and talking to God and her husband and children.

"I wasn't feeling so lonely when I was thinking of them as if they were close to me," she said.

'Little duck, send a message I'm alive.'

On the sixth day, she spotted a duck near her raft.

"I started to talk with this duck," she recalled. "I said 'Little duck, send a message that I'm alive. Take me to my people. Take me to the shore.'.

"I started crying and I said, 'Why don't you take me so that I can fly somewhere with you?'.''

[ image: Flooding in Honduras has left thousands stranded]
Flooding in Honduras has left thousands stranded
Her nightmare ended a few hours later when she saw a plane and waved at it.

"I was trying to stand up on the raft, but a wave threw me in the sea," she said.

She clambered back on and took off her black T-shirt, hoping her red bra might be more visible.

When the plane passed again it dropped something in the water that exploded.

It was probably intended to mark the spot, but Mrs Arriola thought she was being bombed.

About half an hour later she was picked up by a Lynx helicopter from HMS Sheffield, helping with the relief effort in Honduras.

A crewman was lowered to the raft and Mrs Arriola was winched to safety.

"I told him, thank God you have saved me. Thank God," she said.

'I have nothing to live for'

News accounts say she was picked up about 120km from her home.

Mrs Arriola is now recuperating in hospital from dehydration, sun exposure and hypothermia.

She is expected to be discharged soon and will probably live with relatives.

But, despite her miraculous survival, Mrs Arriola says she has little to live for now.

The bodies of her husband and daughter have been found. Her sons are presumed dead.

"I have nothing. I have nowhere to go," she says. "I lost it all."

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