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Death toll from Hurricane Felix rises to 98

September 07, 2007|From the Associated Press

PUERTO CABEZAS, NICARAGUA — Dozens of bodies were found along the Miskito Coast straddling the Nicaragua- Honduras border, pushing the death toll from Hurricane Felix to at least 98, emergency officials said Thursday.

U.S., Honduran and Nicaraguan soldiers searched remote beaches and the open sea for survivors and the dead. Villagers helped, paddling canoes through water thick with fallen trees.

The storm also destroyed the ethnic Mayagna Indian community of Awas Tingni, 55 miles northwest of Puerto Cabezas, said Abelino Cox, spokesman for the Regional Emergency Committee. Fourteen people from there were missing.

Felix damaged or destroyed 8,000 houses in and around Puerto Cabezas, leaving 18,000 Nicaraguans in shelters, civil defense officials said.

Many of the victims were Miskito Indians who had tried to flee the Category 5 hurricane. At least 32 people were missing after their boats capsized.

Aid was arriving slowly in the impoverished region, where descendants of Indians, European settlers and African slaves live in stilt homes on island reefs and in small hamlets, surviving by fishing and diving for lobster.

The ocean was filled with debris, preventing a rescue mission from going ashore at Sandy Bay, Nicaragua, the village where the eye of Felix made landfall Tuesday with 160-mph winds and a storm surge estimated at 18 feet above normal tides.

From a distance, rescue teams could see fallen palm trees, roofless concrete structures and wooden homes reduced to splinters.

The Nicaraguan government said at least $30 million would be needed for rebuilding.

The U.S. Southern Command sent an amphibious warship, the Wasp, to help coordinate relief efforts. Venezuela sent aid, and 57 Cuban doctors and nurses on medical missions along the Miskito Coast pitched in.

By Thursday, Felix was nothing more than a steady rain in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, but swollen rivers and soggy, unstable mountainsides kept thousands of people from their homes in Central America.

In Honduras, officials said a 15-year-old was buried by mud while trying to repair a water line in the capital, Tegucigalpa; a 34-year-old man drowned in a ditch in El Progreso; and a pregnant woman in Tegucigalpa died when a river flooded. It wasn't clear whether the three were included in the death toll of 98 provided by Cox.

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