By Oswaldo Rivas
PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua, (Reuters) – Hurricane Felix killed at least 38 people on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast and more than 80 people were missing after the storm destroyed thousands of flimsy homes, the government said on Wednesday.
As soldiers combed the area around Puerto Cabezas port, the Navy tried to reach settlements on marshy spits of land or on keys to look for more casualties from Felix, which crashed into the coast on Tuesday as an extremely powerful Category 5 hurricane.
“We had 21 dead at midday and we’ve now found 17 more. This figure could go up,” disaster prevention chief Col. Ramon Arnesto told reporters. “There are a lot of missing people, we don’t know, there could be more or less 80 people,” he said.
People wept at the harbor in Puerto Cabezas, inhabited mostly by Miskito Indians, for 12 fishermen they said never returned from work.
Visiting the area, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said about 9,000 homes in the area were destroyed. Residents worked with police and soldiers to try to clear dozens of uprooted trees lying in the street.
“We are talking about really serious damage,” Ortega said.
Felix revived memories throughout Central America of Hurricane Mitch, which killed 10,000 people in 1998.
The latest storm weakened to a tropical depression after entering Honduras on Tuesday and residents of the capital, Tegucigalpa, appeared to escape major damage this time around.
Only drizzle fell in Tegucigalpa, which flooded when Mitch rampaged through, but heavy rain in the north of the country flooded villages and left two rivers close to bursting their banks.
There were no reports of deaths in Honduras.
Felix came on the heels of another Category 5 hurricane, the most powerful type of storm. Last month, Hurricane Dean killed 27 people in the Caribbean and Mexico last month.
It was the first time on record that two Atlantic hurricanes made landfall as Category 5 storms in one season.
In the Pacific Ocean, Hurricane Henriette, a Category 1 storm, hit mainland Mexico after lashing the Los Cabos resort on Tuesday before roaring through the Gulf of California.
A foreign tourist walking on the beach in Los Cabos, on the Baja California peninsula, was killed on Monday after being dragged away by big waves as the storm approached.
Coffee producers in Nicaragua and Honduras did not report damage to the crop, vital to the two countries’ economies. (Additional reporting by Ivan Castro in Managua and Noel Randewich in Tegucigalpa)