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Mitch a Nightmare for U.S. Tourists

November 3, 1998

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ Trapped in a hotel room for 36 hours while Hurricane Mitch destroyed almost everything around him, American tourist Jeremy Butler could only marvel at the awesome noise.

``What it sounds like is an incredible shrieking, a high shrieking noise, but at the same time there’s a noise like a freight train going by or thunder,″ said the San Juan Islands, Wash., resident. ``Or a 747 taking off.″

Butler and about 25 other guests were prisoners in their rooms while Hurricane Mitch ripped apart the tiny Honduran island of Guanaja.

Considering they were caught in a storm whose wind speeds reached 180 mph and killed thousands in Central America, the tourists at the Posada del Sol luxury resort were lucky.

Their building was sturdy concrete. They had food, water and camaraderie. Among the guests were public works employees from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who kept the electrical generator operating.

And when they weren’t sure how long they would be stranded, they managed to hitch a ride with the president of Taca Group, a major Latin American airline, who happened by.

As they headed to the airport in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, they were more eager to talk about the need to help the 5,000 island residents devastated by the storm than their own experiences.

``They need food, they need water, they need medical care,″ said Marvin Stahl of Waskom, Texas, who was on a diving vacation with his wife, Gloria.

The couple had heard about Hurricane Mitch before leaving for Guanaja on Oct. 25, but weren’t worried because forecasters predicted it would head north. The first signs of a serious storm came the next day, when waves became rough and the hotel started boarding its windows. By then, the last regular flight had left.

By last Tuesday night, the storm was quickly approaching with wind speeds of 150 mph.

``We were in the bar and the windows blew out,″ said Tamara Ebert of Madison, Wis.

Ebert, the Stahls and Butler went to one room with another couple. Ebert’s father, William Thompson of Indianapolis stayed in his own room, reading a magazine.

That was the worst night. The guests could hear crashing tree limbs, roof tiles and big concrete blocks, and the shrieking wind.

``Every time we’d get one of those real heavy blasts, the pressure was so incredible your ears would pop,″ Thompson said.

Thompson and others said they weren’t too worried about getting killed, but Butler wasn’t so sure.

``There were big overhangs on the roof,″ he said. ``What I was afraid of was the wind would come under the beams and rip the whole roof off.″

By Wednesday morning, tensions eased. The building was still standing. They were safe. There was little to do then but wait.

By Thursday morning, they got out. What they found had little semblance to the picturesque island that greeted them when they arrived.

``All the trees, the tree limbs, the tiles from the resort were all just thrown all over the place,″ Marvin Stahl said. ``I’ve never seen anything like it before. There is no foliage on the island _ every tree, all the limbs are gone, all the leaves are gone.″

On Saturday, a plane arrived with room for 15 passengers. The Stahls, Thompson, Ebert and Butler were left behind.

They were told a plane would come back for them later that day _ but it didn’t. So Sunday, they waited at the airstrip and hoped a plane would come.

It did _ carrying Taca Group president Federico Bloch, who was flying around Honduras on a small plane to examine storm damage. Bloch saw the stranded Americans and offered a ride to Tegucigalpa. From there, they left for home Monday morning.

``After you’ve lived through it, you wouldn’t trade anything for having had the experience,″ Marvin Stahl said. ``But you hope you never live through anything like that again.″

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