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Mrs. Gore Fills Mitch Aid Packages

November 11, 1998

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Tipper Gore flew to Nicaragua today, bringing a U.S. pledge for an additional $1.5 million in medical aid and a dozen helicopters to help relief efforts in countries devastated by Hurricane Mitch.

The wife of Vice President Al Gore announced the aid upon her arrival in Nicaragua from neighboring Honduras.

The United States will donate $1.5 million to the Pan-American Health Organization to help buy medicine for victims of the storm, she said. The money will come on top of a $10 million U.S. aid package she announced Tuesday in Honduras.

Mrs. Gore briefly joined an assembly line today filling aid packages for disaster victims. Her congressional delegation planned to visit refugee camps and survey relief efforts in Nicaragua before returning to Washington.

In Honduras, she spent Tuesday night in a pup tent in a schoolyard, after helping to clean the school and feed hungry children in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

``This is a tragedy of biblical proportions,″ she said after meeting with residents of Tegucigalpa’s El Chile neighborhood, which was ripped apart by a torrent of mud. ``They’re telling me stories of entire villages being washed away.″

Mrs. Gore’s visit did much to heighten spirits in El Chile. Hundreds of children followed her through the streets, and a few pushed past security to hold her hand.

``The important people never come to this neighborhood,″ said 27-year-old Claudia Boquin, who put her daughter on her shoulders for a better view.

Mrs. Gore delivered an aid shipment that included blankets, sheets and 500 gallons of drinking water for residents who have had little since Mitch killed an estimated 6,600 Hondurans last month.

Central American presidents said an additional 3,400 people died in the region.

As Mrs. Gore surveyed the devastation in Central America, governments and lending institutions around the world moved to help the region pick up the pieces.

France canceled debts owed by Nicaragua and Honduras, while Ireland announced it was doubling aid to countries ravaged by the storm. Britain said it wanted to contribute to a trust fund for the region and added its support to calls for a moratorium on debt payments by all affected countries.

Cuba announced it was canceling Nicaraguan debts of $50 million, and the World Bank announced it was making $200 million in assistance available from existing projects.

Mitch formed as a tropical storm Oct. 22 in the Caribbean and became a hurricane three days later, battering Honduras while stalled just off the coast. It moved inland as a tropical storm on Oct. 27 and continued to dump rain.

The storm knocked out hundreds of bridges, leaving many communities isolated. It devastated power and sewer lines throughout Honduras and ravaged the nation’s farms.

Honduran President Carlos Flores welcomed the international support, including the contributions of Mrs. Gore. With her boots and pants still caked with mud, the president invited her to his home Tuesday night for a pizza dinner.

``The example is something that’s not forgotten,″ Flores told Mrs. Gore.

Mrs. Gore said U.S. military engineers would help repair Honduran roads and bridges and ensure that fuel and food reached the country’s stricken towns.

The $10 million in new U.S. aid comes on top of the $70 million the Clinton administration already has committed to Central America.

Mrs. Gore was joined on her trip by Brian Atwood, who heads the U.S. Agency for International Development; Dennis Martinez, a Nicaraguan who pitches for the Atlanta Braves; and John Leonard, deputy assistant secretary of state for Latin America.

The congressional delegation included Democratic senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana; Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona; and Democratic representatives Gary Ackerman of New York and Xavier Becerra of California.

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