Overblown

Overblown

Overblown

Printed.
Dec. 5 1998 3:30 AM

Overblown

Overblown Hurricane Mitch was deadly, but it didn't kill anywhere near 7,000 Hondurans.

By Edward Hegstrom
Edward Hegstrom is a free-lance journalist based in Guatemala City. He writes regularly for the Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, Newsday, and other papers. By Edward Hegstrom
(posted Friday, Dec. 4, 1998)

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On Nov. 2, as journalists streamed into Nicaragua to report a landslide that killed nearly 2,000 people, Honduran President Carlos Flores went on television to remind the world of the calamity inflicted upon his country by the same storm, Hurricane Mitch. "There are corpses everywhere, victims of landslides or of the waters," Flores said, making an appeal for massive international aid. "The most conservative calculations of the dead are in the thousands, not in the hundreds." That same day, the official Honduran death toll went from 246 to 5,000. It later reached a high of 6,748 confirmed dead.

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A postscript to my own reporting about the mass grave in Tegucigalpa: The story turns out to be false. City morgue officials explain that the storm damaged their freezer so they dug a mass grave to stow the corpses that had sat unclaimed in the morgue for months before the storm.
At last count, the Honduran government had deflated its official death count to 5,657.
Links The Miami Herald and USA Today have created archives of news stories about Mitch. (These archives include the Herald story that first questioned official casualty numbers and a USA Today piece reporting that Honduras has suspended a local governor for inflating her region's death toll.) If you're interested in the physics of a hurricane, click here to download animated illustrations of "The Anatomy of a Hurricane" and what would happen to a home in each category of hurricane. And the American Red Cross wants to know: " Are You Ready for a Hurricane?" Edward Hegstrom is a free-lance journalist based in Guatemala City. He writes regularly for the Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, Newsday, and other papers.

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Illustrations by Mark Alan Stamaty.