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Nicaraguan Mudslide Victims Buried

November 5, 1998

EL OJOCHAL, Nicaragua (AP) _ In a former peanut field a few miles from the Casitas volcano, brigades of health ministry workers walked over the mud burning bodies with flame throwers made from pesticide sprayers.

There were so many bodies in one small area _ 36 burned, 10 waiting to be buried _ that they were running low on diesel fuel Wednesday.

``We’ve been over less than (440 yards) and we’ve burned that many. There are (32 square miles), so just imagine,″ said Carlos Curtado, a Health Ministry official.

Two hundred more corpses were found Wednesday in this disaster zone in western Nicaragua, boosting the civil defense’s confirmed death toll to 1,568. As many as 2,000 were feared dead. More than 750,000 people lost their homes or possessions across Nicaragua, and 1,804 are listed as missing nationwide.

President Arnoldo Aleman _ who turned aid distribution over to the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday after government relief efforts were criticized _ said he would bow to residents in deciding whether to declare the Casitas area a national cemetery.

The mud, which rolled down Friday after the crater lake at the top of Casitas collapsed, practically wiped out El Ojochal and other villages. In Rolando Rodriguez, there were 260 house before the mudslide; five are left. El Porvenir had 200 houses; one remains.

Mariana Centeno Gonzalez, 52, lost most of her family in the mudslide, but is housing other survivors at her thatch-roofed home in Rolando Rodriguez.

``There are a lot of people who need food and water. The government says it is helping, but it isn’t helping at all,″ she said.

``There’s another type of aid going on here,″ she said, waving toward her fellow survivors, who were helping each other get by.

Rescuers came out of the hills Tuesday with reports of 400 bodies found in a village called La Flor, said Dr. Juan Jose Guadamuz. He was tending to the injured in a sesame seed packing house that was transformed into a shelter in Posoltega.

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

Mayor Felicita Zeledon of Posoltega said about 400 people have walked out of the region since the mudslides began and 450 survivors were believed still stranded and in need of help.

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

At a packed hospital in Chinandega, 10-year-old Norlan Javier Ocejo screamed in pain when a nurse lifted him onto his hospital bed. The open wounds across his back were stuck to the bandages again.

``I want to go home!″ he screamed, a trickle of blood flowing down his leg. ``I want my mommy!″

Norlan’s mother and father were at the hospital, but his older brother and younger sister were missing and presumed dead in El Porvenir.

With heavy rain still falling, the government has urged people near Casitas and eight other volcanos to evacuate for fear of new mudslides.

A magnitude-3.2 earthquake was reported Wednesday near the Casitas peak, but lava flows from nearby Cerro Negro volcano, which began Tuesday, appeared to have stopped. No injuries or damages were reported in either incident.

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

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