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Honduran Refugees From Mitch Unable to Get Food, Medicine

By Serge F. Kovaleski
The Washington Post

Isolated by flood damage to roads and bridges, an estimated 300,000 people in storm-ravaged areas of Honduras remained cut off Thursday from relief shipments of food and medicine, authorities said.

In the days since Hurricane Mitch drenched much of Central America with unrelenting rains, killing at least 10,000 people in Honduras and Nicaragua, relief and rescue efforts have been hampered by aircraft shortages and extensive flooding that has made it hard to find accessible drop zones on which to land supplies.

"There is food waiting and the problem is not just a lack of aircraft. There is water everywhere in these zones and nowhere to deliver the food and other things," said Arturo Corroles, an information coordinator for the Honduran government. "At this point, we are better organized and we know exactly where these people are, but we just cannot get there right now."

Throughout the region Thursday, authorities struggled with the overwhelming task of trying to reach survivors and search for the victims of one of the worst natural disasters to strike Central America in decades.

Mexico has launched a massive relief effort, establishing an "air bridge" with 12 cargo planes to deliver 28 tons of medicine and bandages and 1,260 tons of basic food items, including corn, flour and beans, to its Central American neighbors. Two Mexican Navy hospital ships have been sent to the region, and the country has loaned 28 helicopters, 12 search dogs, and 45 technicians to help repair roads and restore water, telephone and electrical service.

In Washington, President Clinton ordered that $30 million in equipment and services from the Defense Department and $36 million in food, fuel and other relief be dispatched to Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

As other countries, including Sweden and Norway, joined the ranks of states donating money to ease the crisis, the United Nations' World Food Program said it was diverting supplies from other parts of the world to assist those stricken by Mitch.