PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua - Doctors threw together a makeshift clinic yesterday to tend to the injured after powerful Hurricane Felix flooded their hospital and wrecked villages on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast. Remnants of the storm drenched Central America in rain and the death toll rose to 18, with dozens missing.
Far to the northwest, Hurricane Henriette plowed into Mexico for the second time in two days, making landfall last night near the city of Guaymas with top sustained winds of 75 miles per hour. Seven deaths were reported from the Pacific storm, which hit Baja California on Tuesday.
Felix came ashore Tuesday in Nicaragua as a Category 5 tempest packing 160 miles per hour winds and heavy rains that caused mudslides, destroyed homes, and devastated villages. Nicaragua was flying food and other emergency supplies to the regional capital of Puerto Cabezas, but officials said help had not yet reached some villages.
Civil Defense Department spokesman Alvaro Rivas said the confirmed death toll was 18, with more than 50 people missing in the Matagalpa province in the north and another 10 missing around Puerto Cabezas.
Among the missing were four fishermen whose small sailboat sank as Felix's center passed overhead. A survivor, Fernando Pereira, 24, said he clung to a piece of wood for 12 hours, despite a dislocated shoulder, and washed ashore at the village of Sandy Bay only hours after Felix made landfall there. He hadn't seen his friends since.
"I felt horrible," he said. "I was drinking salt water, and I thought I was going to die."
Felix swept over the Miskito Coast, an impoverished region where about 150,000 people live in jungle settlements. Their hamlets of wooden shacks and coconut groves are remote even in good weather, reachable only by air or flat-bottom boats. The Miskitos, descendants of Indians, European settlers, and African slaves, live semiautonomously, much like people on Indian reservations in the United States.
The view from a flight over Sandy Bay - a region that includes about 10 Miskito villages 30 miles north of Puerto Cabezas - showed swaths of felled palm trees, homes without roofs and building debris scattered across the tropical landscape. Felix also wiped out crops and damaged most of the 70 tons of food and emergency goods that had been flown in before the storm.
On Mexico's western coast, Henriette moved across the Gulf of California before striking the mainland. Schools and ports were closed and people evacuated from low-lying areas, but the storm weakened quickly, losing hurricane status over the desert. The storm is expected to dump a few inches of rain today on New Mexico.
Henriette set off mudslides earlier that killed six people in Acapulco as it moved northward up Mexico's Pacific coast.