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Storm Kills 127, Traps Thousands in C. America

October 31, 1998| From Associated Press

LA CEIBA, Honduras — Flood waters unleashed by Tropical Storm Mitch rose quickly across Honduras and Nicaragua on Friday, trapping tens of thousands of people with little food or water and raising the number of confirmed dead to 127.

The U.S. Coast Guard, meanwhile, continued to search for a four-masted schooner missing since Tuesday off Honduras. The Fantome, a Windjammer Barefoot Cruises yacht once owned by Aristotle Onassis, had 31 people aboard.

The presidents of Honduras and Nicaragua declared states of emergency as the storm drove into the heart of Honduras, spreading heavy rain over virtually all of the country.

"Almost all the roads are destroyed . . . everything is tragedy in Honduras," said Col. Anael Perez, spokesman for the Permanent Emergency Committee.

As the storm center neared the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, rising rivers threatened to tear down the four bridges connecting the city to its suburb of Comayaguela. The capital's airport had been closed.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm was centered about 25 miles north of Tegucigalpa on Friday night. It was heading west-southwest at 7 mph. Maximum sustained winds were near 50 mph, down from 180 mph early Tuesday.

The once-fierce hurricane, however, continued to dump water on already flooded towns and farmland. In some areas, as much as 2 feet of rain fell within six hours, and the National Weather Service said some areas could expect as much as that again.

The deluge sparked mudslides that cut off the highway between Tegucigalpa and the country's second-largest city, San Pedro Sula. In the southern city of Choluteca, a mudslide buried a family of six Thursday, the Red Cross said Friday.

In all, 56 deaths were confirmed in Honduras, including 14 on the Bay Islands that house many popular diving resorts.

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