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Search for Mudslide Survivors Is on

November 4, 1998

CHINANDEGA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Ten-year-old Norlan Javier Ocejo screamed in pain as a nurse lifted him onto his hospital bed. The open wounds across his back were stuck to the bandages again, she lamented.

``I want to go home!″ he screamed, a trickle of blood flowing down his leg from having been moved from chair to bed. ``I want my mommy!″

Norlan’s mother and father were in the hospital with him Wednesday, but his older brother and younger sister were both missing and presumed dead.

Hundreds of such survivors from a monstrous mudslide in northwest Nicaragua packed a hospital in Chinandega after being rescued from the region where as many as 2,000 people were killed when soggy earth, trees and rocks came crashing down the side of a volcano.

Norlan was brought to the hospital by helicopter Sunday from El Porvenir, a community of about 150 families that was flattened when pounding rains brought by Hurricane Mitch set off the tragedy Friday morning.

Part of the 4,610-foot Casitas volcano’s crater collapsed, and water from its swollen lake cascaded down the face. About 30 square miles was transformed into an eerie desert-like landscape, strewn with rotting corpses caked with mud.

Rescuers came out of the hills Tuesday with reports of 400 bodies found in a village called La Flor, said Dr. Juan Jose Guadamuz, who tended to the injured in a sesame seed packing house transformed into a shelter in Posoltega, 10 miles southeast of Chinandega.

Guadamuz said the rescue workers told him 30 villagers were still alive and had survived by eating dogs and pigs, which were feeding on human bodies. The survivors told rescuers they did not want to leave their homes for fear that what little they had left would be stolen.

Mayor Felicita Zeledon of Posoltega, the largest city near the disaster area, said about 400 people have walked out of the region since the mudslides began and 450 survivors in need of help were believed to be elsewhere in the area.

Rescuers went out again Wednesday to search for survivors, but hope was running out for anyone left alive after five days without food or water.

Marcelo Narvaez Gonzalez rode into Posoltega on horseback from El Ojochal, a town on the volcano slope where 10 families were killed. Narvaez lost most of his relatives in the mudslide.

``We have looked through the mud and we haven’t found them,″ he said.

The massive mudslide swept children from higher villages into El Ojochal, he said. Residents managed to pull some out alive from the mud and hoped that their parents had survived and would come for them.

``We’ve been taking care of them with the few chickens that we have been surviving on,″ Narvaez said. Fifty-five families who survived the disaster were waiting for help.

Rescue workers heard cries for help in the hills Tuesday, but were unable to reach the people, said Isaac Travers, vice president of the Red Cross in Chinandega. They were trying again Wednesday, he said.

Travers described extraordinary rescue efforts, including swimming across rivers to get to survivors and bringing them back the same way.

Four farmers buried up to their chests in mud were screaming for help late Monday, a Nicaraguan journalist and a local official said Tuesday. But rescue workers could not reach the men, only 200 yards away _ the mud was too soft to walk on.

Zeledon told The Associated Press on Tuesday that 1,950 corpses had been recovered in villages below the volcano. She said rescue workers were burying and burning bodies in hopes of preventing the spread of disease.

Other officials gave lower, but still ghastly tolls: The Red Cross said 1,250, while the president’s office said 1,338.

The government urged people living near Casitas and eight other nearby volcanos to evacuate their homes Tuesday for fear of new mudslides. Heavy rain has been falling in recent days.

Central American officials say more than 9,000 people died in floods and mudslides triggered by Mitch, which once was among the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the Caribbean.

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