BILWI, Nicaragua (AFP) — Thousands of residents of Nicaragua and Honduras sought aid Saturday in the wake of Hurricane Felix, while rescuers expressed fears that the death toll of at least 100 would surely rise.
Mixed reports of the full extent of the damage wrought by Felix, which whipped the two Central American countries mid-week, filtered out as authorities attempted to reach isolated communities that had been in its path.
The United Nations representative in Nicaragua, Alfredo Missar, said late Friday that some 100,000 people lived in the area affected by the hurricane.
Meanwhile, crews from two US helicopters assisting in the rescue effort on Friday reported seeing bodies floating in the Caribbean, fueling fears that the death toll would rise.
Hurricane Felix reached the highest possible category five strength on the Saffir-Simpson scale when it struck the region on Tuesday.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, on a second tour of the area bordering with Honduras, said that of the 52 affected communities "absolutely nothing" is known of 11, and at least 27 are isolated.
"Those who disappeared on the high seas could be in the hundreds," said regional governor Reynaldo Francis. He added that another 50 or so were trapped in the tropical forest.
During several overflights of Nicaragua's coastline "many bodies were spotted floating near Cabo Gracias a Dios," said the US military representative in Managua, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gaddis. He added that Nicaragua's military had been apprised of their location.
The storm death toll reached at least 100, while another 120 people remained missing, Nicaraguan and Honduran officials said.
"We have found 52 bodies so far, but the people conducting searches in the sea say there are many more," Marco Burgos, the head of the Disaster Prevention Committee, told AFP.
The bodies of dozens of Miskito Indians living in Nicaragua's coast were found floating in Honduran waters on Thursday.
"I saw three people die in front of my eyes, of the nine of us who fled on a boat that split in two," said Rosa Rivera, 33, a Nicaraguan who survived three days in the open sea.
Rescuers and aid workers have struggled to reach remote Nicaraguan and Honduran villages, making it difficult to determine the full extent of the death and destruction.
Nicaragua's government has appealed to the international community for help, estimating that reconstruction would cost 30 million dollars.
Ortega said 10,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, while 50,000 people had lost everything they owned. He said the known extent of the destruction will likely rise.
Owner-built homes on shaky foundations in low-lying areas are particularly threatened by rising floodwaters and mudslides.
The European Union announced it would send 1.3 million dollars in emergency aid to help the relief effort in Nicaragua, while the World Food Program has delivered more than 200,000 tonnes of provisions.
Wells are contaminated while the region has been without power since Tuesday.
The remnants of Felix, meanwhile, continued to dump rain over Central America, raising fears of deadly flooding.
A few streets and markets of Tegucigalpa were flooded, killing at least two people in the Honduran capital.
In northwest Honduras, the Ulua and Chamelecon rivers overflowed in the wealthy Valle de Sula farming and industrial region, flooding and isolating some villages without causing any immediate deaths.
In Guatemala, more than 850 people were evacuated from the Caribbean coast town of Izabal due to flooding.
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