Disaster death toll reaches 8,000

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AS THE torrential floods unleashed by Hurricane Mitch subsided yesterday, rescue workers surveyed scenes of unparalleled devastation in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Whole villages are buried in mud, crops and property have been washed away, and roads and bridges are destroyed. According to latest estimates, at least 7,000 people have died in Honduras and a further 1,338 people in Nicaragua. Thousands more are unaccounted for. "We have before us a panorama of death, desolation and ruin in all of the national territory," the Honduran President, Carlos Flores, said in a television address.

"There are corpses everywhere, victims of landslides or of the waters ... There are no undamaged zones or unharmed towns ... Bananas, coffee, water melons and basic grains are all lost. This is beyond pride or shame."

The hurricane brought 180mph winds and dumped two feet of water every day on the low plains and rolling hills of the two Central American countries.

The deluge filled the crater of the Casitas volcano in north-western Nicaragua, causing it to disintegrate and spew huge waves of mud and debris over three or four villages.

One-third of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, was reported to have been destroyed and the city's popular mayor, Cesar Castellanos, became a victim when his helicopter crashed while surveying the afflicted areas over the weekend.

Rescue workers heard women and children screaming for help as they sank into the mire.

After touring stricken zones, a clearly shocked Nicaraguan defence minister, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, said he had seen a pig nibbling at a child's corpse. "It's hard to believe it unless you have seen it with your own eyes," he said.

An appeal for food, medicines and water has been launched by both governments. Floating bodies, page 3