Estimated 7,000 dead in mudslides and floods

MORE THAN 7,000 people, mostly farmers and their families, may have died in Central America in floods and mudslides caused by Hurricane Mitch, officials said yesterday. One official spoke of 5,000 feared dead in Honduras alone, added to at least 2,000 killed in neighbouring Nicaragua.

Most of the victims died at the start of the weekend, after the powerful hurricane slowed into a tropical storm and dumped several feet of rain on the isthmus. But severed roads and communications in already remote areas meant the true extent of the tragedy was becoming clear only last night.

Although the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa, was mostly under floodwater and without power or communications, Hondurans had no idea of their rural country people's fate until those with battery-operated radios heard officials of the National Emergency Council declare yesterday that 5,000 Hondurans were feared dead.

"Officially, we have 362 dead and 357 missing," said Lieutenant-Colonel Saul Carrillo of the Honduran Civil Defence Commission. "But really the number of deaths could top 5,000. Communications are cut. Many people may have been swept away by floods or buried by rubble."

The Honduran President, Carlos Flores, announced he was suspending constitutional liberties to combat looting. "There are corpses everywhere, victims of landslides or of the waters," he said in a nationally broadcast speech.

"The most conservative calculations of the dead are in the thousands, not in the hundreds. I ask the international community for human solidarity. The floods and landslides erased from the map many villages and households as well as whole neighbourhoods of cities. We have a panorama of death, desolation and ruin throughout the national territory."

The President said Honduras could take decades to recover after flooding and mudslides that wiped out as much as 70 per cent of crops. Agriculture accounts for about half of the country's annual economic output of $3bn (pounds 1.8bn).

"In agriculture, we have lost 70 per cent of our main products, both for export and domestic consumption." he said.

Others described near apocalyptic damage to the country of 5.5 million. In Tegucigalpa, almost one-third of all homes were damaged or destroyed. Water mains, prisons, hospitals and government ministries suffered heavy damage. As panic grew in the city over basic food supplies, hundreds were arrested for looting.

The Honduran and Nicaraguan governments appealed urgently for international aid. "Honduras is chaos," said one local journalist, Gustavo Palencia. "The infrastructure is gone. There is no drinking water. If we don't get international aid, many more will succumb to hunger or disease."

Tegucigalpa's mayor, Cesar Castellanos, was among those killed. He had gone out to check on damage and assist the rescue effort when his helicopter crashed in a rainstorm.

In Nicaragua, where the right-wing government has dismantled the armed forces of the Sandinista regime, the authorities said they had only five military helicopters and needed more to get to isolated stricken zones.

Rescuers said the confirmed death toll was at least 1,300 but that 1,500 more were missing. They feared the missing were buried in a deep river of mud. The victims were caught unawares as rainwater filled the crater of the Casita volcano before overflowing and surging down through the villages. Survivors said the mountain "seemed to explode" although there was no volcanic eruption.

Hundreds were swept downstream by the avalanche of mud and then entombed. "We may never know how many died," said Nicaragua's Vice-President, Enrique Bolanos. Red Cross workers described seeing bodies protruding from mud.

Officials said that the cost to Nicaragua could top $1.8bn in annual economic output.

Some of the world's previous worst natural disasters include an earthquake in Tang-Shan, in China, which killed 242,000 in 1976, a landslide in Peru in 1970 which killed 17,500, and a tsunami in Morocco in 1960 which killed 12,000 people. Floods in China in the Thirties killed more than three million.

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star