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Hurricane Mitch Article

As you read this article, do not use a dictionary. Try to guess the meaning of the bold-faced words from context. Write your guesses in the margins.

A Look Back at Mitch's Rampage

Born as a hurricane in the wee hours of Oct. 24, Mitch grew into one of the biggest - and deadliest - tropical cyclones of this century. By the time it broke up off the Florida coast Thursday, the damage wrought by Mitch had reached biblical proportions: an estimated 10,000 dead, thousands more missing, billions of dollars in damage. Associated Press correspondents throughout Central America contributed to this picture of the storm's wrath.

Mitch veered onto the forecasters' video monitors as a huge, threatening swirl in the middle of the western Caribbean.

"Satellite images suggest that the hurricane is strengthening," the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned Oct. 24. But that Saturday morning, and for many hours afterward, Mitch's path was far from clear.

That afternoon, it was 215 miles south-southwest of Kingston, Jamaica, and moving north at 7 mph. Officials there prepared for a hit. Cuba feared it would be next.

But both nations were largely spared as the slow-moving storm meandered through the Caribbean. Three days later Mitch's target finally became clear: Central America, a land mass of poor nations, fragile houses, vulnerable crops.

Mitch, now the fourth-strongest Caribbean hurricane this century, moved in for the kill.

Vacationers at the Posada del Sol resort on the island of Guanaja, 75 miles off the Honduran coast, remember the shrieking wind - a sound like a freight train or a 747 jet taking off.

Secure inside the concrete compound, they waited a hellish 36 hours, listening to the crashing tree limbs, roof tiles and big concrete blocks - and the infernal wind.

Many of Guanaja's 5,000 residents, meanwhile, waited out the storm in a protected canyon extending across the island.

For more than a day, the hurricane's eye hovered over Guanaja, ripping apart wooden houses on stilts, tearing boats from their docks, and knocking out power and telephones.

The storm wiped out the brightly colored flowers and greenery that once covered the island, leaving behind a barren landscape.

"I've never seen anything like it before," recalled Marvin Stahl of Waskom, Texas, who was on a diving vacation with his wife. "There is no foliage on the island - every tree, all the limbs are gone, all the leaves are gone."

Soon, the storm's fury moved to Honduras itself, and its Central American neighbors. It dumped as much as 25 inches of rain in a single day. Rivers swelled to several times their normal size, and the brown rapids snatched up houses, cows - even people - and carried them downstream, sometimes to the ocean.

The heavy rains soaked the hill country of Honduras and Nicaragua until the soil in some places became so wet it finally slipped loose, sending mud, rocks and trees spilling down onto homes - entire towns.

Honduran President Carlos Flores Facusse went on national television to declare his country's Caribbean coast a disaster zone.

The rain - up to 25 inches in mountain areas - had begun to take a huge toll. Tens of thousands were evacuated from low-lying areas. The floodwaters in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa rose to stunning levels: the third floor of a hospital was evacuated as the Choluteca River poured into the second floor.

At a noisy shelter in a trade school, mothers wept silently as they cradled their children on mattresses slapped on the floor. Barefoot kids hollered as they ran after a soccer ball.

Edwin Israel, 14, waited patiently behind a small group of adults while they listed all their needs: food, medicine, clothing, hope.

After the grownups left, Edwin admitted what he wanted most.

"Shoes," he said softly, glancing at his bare feet. "Hurricane Mitch took mine away."

The first official reports from northwestern Nicaragua the night of Oct. 31 were almost too fantastic to believe: several thousands were buried when a mammoth mudslide plunged down the side of the Casitas Volcano.

"It is like a desert littered with buried bodies," said Felicita Zeledon, mayor of Posoltega, about 20 miles south of the mudslide area.

The mayor's reports were not confirmed until the next day, when the skies cleared and military helicopters could fly over. In subsequent days, rescue workers pulled hundreds upon hundreds of mud-caked corpses from the muck.

Many bodies were buried where they lay because of concerns about disease. Others were burned.

After the Saopin Bridge across the Cangrejal River was crushed, cutting the town of La Ceiba in two, families were separated. Those living on the east side couldn't get to the grocery stores or pharmacies on the west side.

The solution: a steel cable stretching across the span.

Locals suspended a metal basket from the cable, creating "the basket passage" - part thrill ride, part lifeline.

Volunteers used ropes to pull the basket, with five or six passengers aboard, across the 65-foot gap in the bridge. About 100 passengers crossed every hour, 13 hours a day.

Some passengers covered their eyes while the basket, just three feet wide, three feet long and three feet deep, swayed above the river.

Amid the smoke flowing from their newly erected lean-tos, about 500 people left homeless in El Salvador started reconstructing their lives after everything they owned was snatched away by surging floodwaters.

"We got out with our children as we could," when the Lempa River overflowed, said Francisca Iraheta. "And were helped by some horses that appeared from nowhere."

"Few people died, but a lot of animals were lost," said her husband, Santos. "And our agricultural crops are destroyed."

Although the floodwaters have receded, life is growing difficult in the communities of northern Honduras.

"There's no water or anything," said Ramon Martute of La Paz, a village of about 500 people.

No water. No food. No electricity. No phones. Few houses remain; many people sleep in a fruit packing plant.

No roads. No bridges. The only access is by helicopter, but flights are rare - usually to evacuate sick or injured.

There is plenty of mud - as far as the eye can see.

La Paz is in the Aguan River Valley, a major banana growing region for Dole, known here as Standard Fruit of Honduras.

The river is muddy brown, still strong but far from the monster it was during the storm. The banana plants are also muddy brown, tens of thousands of them bent over in the fields.

Amid fear about outbreaks of disease, an American relief group of paramedics and rescue workers trekked into northern Honduras.

In Flores de Oriente, the 14-member team from the Air and Land Emergency Resource Team set up in the local clinic, still flooded after the storm.

"It's a mess," team leader John Tanner said as volunteers with the nonprofit Christian group from Watersmeet, Mich., began attending to people with diarrhea, foot ailments, and conjunctivitis.

Appealing for international help, Honduras' president announced that his country's development had been set back 50 years.

In a televised speech Wednesday night, Flores urged the more than 1.5 million Hondurans who lost loved ones, homes and property to help in the recovery.

"The country is semi-destroyed," he said, "and awaits the maximum effort, and most fervent and constant work of every one of its children."

By the Associated Press

Translation of Other Words and Phrases that May Be Unfamiliar

Veered onto: appeared on, after changing direction

A hit: a strike, an attack

Were largely spared: avoided serious damage

Moved in for the kill: got closer before striking

Infernal: hellish

Hovered over: remained above

Wiped out: completely destroyed

Snatched up: picked up quickly

Coast: seashore

Shelter: a type of emergency housing (e.g. "a homeless shelter")

Mammoth: very big

Corpses: dead bodies

A steel cable: a metal rope

Newly erected lean-tos: newly built shelters, each with a roof and one wall.

Rare: very uncommon, infrequent

Amid: surrounded by

A mess: an extremely bad and disorderly situation

Set back: taken back, in terms of progress

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