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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK

World: Americas

Hurricane Mitch devastation 'man made'

El Salvador: Similar scenes were repeated across Central America

By Science Reporter Helen Briggs

Hurricane Mitch was the most deadly hurricane to strike the Western hemisphere in two centuries.

Hurricane Mitch
The flooding and landslides that followed claimed 11,000 lives in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Various factors were blamed at the time, including torrential rain.

Now researchers in the UK have analysed data from a rain gauge in southern Honduras that survived the storm.

Writing in the journal Nature, they say rainfall was not exceptional for the time of year, and suggest that other, mainly artificial factors, were largely responsible for the devastation caused:

  • the hurricane struck at the end of the rainy season when soil was already saturated with water
  • clearing of hillsides for farming had left slopes vulnerable to landslides
  • and people were ill-prepared for such a disaster because Mitch had been wrongly predicted to move northwards.

And there is little consolation for those still suffering from the trail of destruction left by Mitch.

The scientists say it is possible that without better land use in the area and improved warning systems for hurricanes, the same thing could happen again.

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