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Mitch Leaves Hondurans Stunned

November 2, 1998

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ There is sand where Edna Elizabeth Sanchez’s house used to be. There are also a few bricks and a rusty tin roof panel, but mostly just sand.

Sanchez’s family of 15 left their belongings behind Friday as the flooded Choluteca River, fueled by rains from Hurricane Mitch, threatened their home.

On Sunday they returned to see what they could salvage.

``Nothing. Nothing. Here exactly was my house. There’s nothing left,″ she said.

Sanchez wept as she spoke, but her family just stared blankly at the river. The brown current was stronger than usual, but still tame enough for women to wash their clothes in it.

Just two days earlier, the river surged over its banks, smashing through houses and bridges, tossing cars as if they were toys, and killing what officials say may be hundreds of people. By early today, the death toll throughout Honduras stood at 246 people.

In all of Central America, at least 1,005 were confirmed dead from the monstrous storm, and that number was expected to climb.

Residents of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, stopped along the river banks to see the damage for themselves. Taking advantage of a precious day of sunshine Sunday, they stared at the pickup trucks almost completely buried in mud, the houses dangling off cliffs formed by landslides, and the remnants of bridges washed away in the river.

Even if they hadn’t lost their homes, just about all of the capital’s 1 million residents had been affected by the storm. Potable water is scarce, electricity and telephone service spotty, and schools are closed indefinitely.

In another blow, the city’s popular mayor, Cesar Castellanos, was killed in a helicopter accident along with three other people Sunday afternoon while examining storm damage. Officials believe mechanical failure was the cause.

For Tegucigalpa, the hurricane has brought out the best and worst of its residents.

The worst has been reports of widespread looting. Soldiers recently joined police in patrolling the city’s streets, but there still wasn’t enough security to protect all the evacuated houses and businesses.

David Wernet of Springfield, Mass., who is attending college in Tegucigalpa, said he watched from his window as thieves stole at will.

``You could see the same people come back four or five times,″ he said.

The best of the city has been the relief efforts.

Arnold Aviles and two friends organized a network to distribute food. About 17,000 meals were delivered on Saturday and more were being delivered on Sunday.

All the food was contributed by local businesses and residents. But much of the preparation was handled by foreign volunteers who found themselves stranded in Tegucigalpa.

Among them were 21 volunteers from the Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. They were building a library in northern Honduras when the storm forced them to evacuate.

Unable to get a flight back to the United States, they offered their services not only in preparing the food, but also helping out at their hotel _ doing laundry, for example, said Robert Durkee, a leader of the group.

Hotels, like many businesses, had problems getting employees into work during the storm.

``If we hadn’t been helping, we’d just be sitting around,″ Durkee said.

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