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21 dead from Hurricane Felix in Nicaragua

world Updated: Sep 06, 2007 04:26 IST

AFP
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The death toll from Hurricane Felix mounted to 21 and could continue to rise as search-and-rescue teams spread out Wednesday along northeastern Nicaragua, where the furious storm left a trail of destruction.

One day after it slammed ashore from the Caribbean, smashing thousands of homes, Felix lost all its punch, but the rain it dumped over neighboring Honduras raised fears of floods and mudslides.

Teams deploying along Nicaragua's coast feared they would find more death and destruction as they made their way to isolated communities whose wooden shacks offered no protection from the 260 kilometer (160 mile) per hour winds the hurricane packed when it thundered onto land.

"We have 21 dead and it is possible that will increase. We must speed up (search) efforts," said Reynaldo Francis, governor of the impoverished North Atlantic Autonomous Region, the worst hit by the hurricane.

"We are getting information of bodies floating in the water," he added in a conversation with President Daniel Ortega broadcast on national television.

Among those killed by the storm's fury was a baby who died at birth, officials said.

An estimated 5,000 homes, many of them built of wood and tin, were destroyed by the storm that displaced 50,000 people in Nicaragua alone.

The worst hit was Puerto Cabezas, an impoverished city of 40,000 where officials said 90 percent of infrastructure was wrecked. Debris of houses smashed up by the storm, downed power lines and uprooted trees littered the ground.

Felix gradually lost power to become a tropical depression, which still caused concern in Honduras, an impoverished nation where numerous people live on unstable mountain flanks or dangerously close to flood-prone rivers.

Close to 20,000 people in Honduras were evacuated, including hundreds of residents of Tegucigalpa, whose mountainous location puts the city at risk from landslides.

As water levels rose, residents rushed to stores to stock up on food, water and other essentials, many remembering all too well how the capital was cut off for days in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America, killing at least 9,000 people.

On Wednesday morning, authorities already reported 123 damaged homes and 10 landslides.

Tuesday's landfall marked the first time on record that two Atlantic hurricanes hit land at the topmost category five in the same year, after Hurricane Dean barreled ashore in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula two weeks ago.

Mexico was again targeted by a storm, this time from the Pacific, as Hurricane Henriette headed toward the mainland after it barreled over the country's Baja California peninsula, where thousands of residents were left without power or running water.

Los Cabos was cut off from the rest of the peninsula as floods and mudslides blocked the two roads leading to the tourist resort.

On Wednesday, Henriette swirled over the Gulf of California toward the mainland state of Sonora.

Henriette left seven people dead over the weekend when it caused several mudslides along Mexico's southern Pacific coast.