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Clinton Meets With Mitch Survivors

March 9, 1999

POSOLTEGA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Clutching a paper airplane, the curly-haired little boy spoke quietly to President Clinton. ``I lost my whole family and I miss them, my mama and my papa,″ he said.

Juan Pablo Montoya Narvaez, bright-eyed and small for 7 years old, was left an orphan when Hurricane Mitch sent a sea of mud sliding down Casita Volcano, engulfing farms and even whole villages last October. The boy was buried in mud up to his neck for two days until two men from another village pulled him out.

The family home and everything in it was destroyed. Now, Juan Pablo is living with his brothers in a tent camp along with 1,000 other people.

Clinton urged the boy to stay in school.

``You can learn a lot and pray to God to take care of your mother and your father, and they will be proud of you,″ the president said.

The youngster sailed his paper plane and it crashed into a wall, crumbling the tip. Clinton picked it up and carefully refolded it for the youngster.

``I was a little boy once,″ Clinton said, ``and I can still remember a few things.″ The president got the plane flying again.

The president, on a tour of four Central American countries hit by Hurricane Mitch, listened to heart-breaking stories as he met with survivors at the Posoltega agricultural center auditorium.

Esperanza Morales Accosta, 29, told Clinton, ``My little girl was shouting at me, asking me to save her but the water was dragging me away and I couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything.″

The woman was trapped in the mud for three days before being rescued. Her knee is still injured.

``I want to get well,″ she said, ``and I want to fend for myself.″

Olivia Cortez Pantoja, 57, lost her 26-year-old son and a 32-year-old daughter. She lost 13 relatives in all, and now has to care for six nieces. They all live in a tent camp near Posoltega where they receive USAID food rations of corn-soy blend, beans, oil and rice.

At her small farm, her house and all her possessions were lost. Her corn and bean fields were buried. She lost all her chickens, pigs and her few cows.

``I have faith in God and in you,″ she told the president. ``We are desperate here because we were left with nothing here, absolutely nothing.″

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