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World - Americas

Hurricane survivors make desperate trek to stay alive

Residents of Santa Rosa de Aguan carry supplies back to their ruined village
According to villagers in Santa Rosa de Aguan, 16 families lived in this flooded area
For survivors of Mitch, the struggle is far from over
CNN's Harris Whitbeck on Honduras' continuing recovery efforts
Windows Media 28K 56K
November 17, 1998
Web posted at: 8:51 p.m. EST (0151 GMT)

SANTA ROSA DE AGUAN, Honduras (CNN) -- Between their ravaged homes and their only hope of survival lie 50 kilometers of mud, debris-clouded rivers and hot, humid air that smells of decay. Yet each day, the residents of this Honduran fishing village embark on a desperate journey to reach a U.S. airfield where cargo planes deliver tens of thousands of pounds of food. Some walk for hours through muck up to their knees, others ply flooded rivers in dugout canoes or navigate the treacherous landscape in four-wheel-drive trucks.

Hurricane Mitch cut off Santa Rosa and many other coastal towns from the rest of the country. The storm took at least 10,000 lives and wrecked the region's economies. Now the survivors can no longer wait for international aid to come to them. They must seek it on their own.

Some isolated communities in Honduras have received no aid in 10 days. Food and medicine arrives at the airport in Trujillo, but relief workers say the government lacks the resources to transport it to the hardest-hit areas.

"A lot of the problem is transportation, the lack of gasoline and the lack of enough helicopters to get things out of here," said missionary Megan Hempelman.

The world is trying to remedy the problem with hundreds of millions of dollars of aid, food and transportation equipment. U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is touring nations devastated by the hurricane, announced Monday the United States would send more than 4,000 additional troops and 16 more helicopters to Central America to help relief efforts.

French President Jacques Chirac and Spain's Crown Prince Felipe de Borbon offered their support as they separately visited Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

The chief of the International Monetary Fund is proposing to forgive Nicaragua and Honduras, the two nations most affected by the hurricane, 80 percent of their debts to the IMF. France, Cuba, Austria, the United States and Spain are among the countries that have already announced they will pardon some or all of the two nations' debts.

In the meantime, much of the rice, beans and cans of powdered milk that arrive in the Honduran airport in Trujillo sit in warehouses guarded by Honduran soldiers. Donated pineapples rot in their containers. Some missionary groups are using their own vehicles to ship supplies to remote areas. But for other survivors, only their determination to continue a hazardous trek across ruined terrain can keep them alive.

Correspondent Harris Whitbeck and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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