U.S., Honduran and Nicaraguan soldiers searched remote jungle beaches and the open sea Thursday for survivors and cadavers after Hurricane Felix claimed at least 98 lives, many of them Miskito Indians who died fleeing the Category 5 storm.
Abelino Cox, the spokesman for the Regional Emergency Committee in Puerto Cabezas, said the death toll from Felix had risen to 98 as authorities search the Miskito coastline that stretches across the Nicaragua-Honduras border for people missing two days after the hurricane hit.
The previous toll was at least 65 dead, but Cox did not say where the other 33 deaths occurred.
The ocean was filled with debris, preventing a rescue mission from coming ashore in Sandy Bay, where the eye of Felix made landfall Tuesday with catastrophic 160 mph winds and a storm surge estimated at 18 feet above normal tides.
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.
About 150 Miskito Indians who live on low-lying reefs and keys off the swampy coast of Nicaragua survived by grabbing anything that floated as the huge storm surge swamped their island homes and tore apart the flimsy wooden shacks. They hung on to tables, buoys and canoes.
"We think there are many more people floating in the sea," said Carolina Echeverrria, a congresswoman in neighboring Honduras after authorities rescued the Miskitos, nine of whom were in serious condition.
The Miskitos, descendants of Indians, European settlers and African slaves, live semi-autonomously, much like people on Indian reservations in the United States.
As Felix's remnants drenched Central America, Hurricane Henriette plowed into Mexico for the second time in two days Wednesday, making landfall near the port city of Guaymas with top sustained winds of 75 mph before weakening as it headed inland.
Henriette faded into a tropical depression and was dissipating over Mexico's Sonoran desert, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Its remnants were expected to dump a few inches of rain on New Mexico.
Nine deaths were reported from the Pacific storm, which hit Baja California on Tuesday. On Wednesday, a clam digger was swept away by high tides and a man fell from his roof while conducting repairs, Mexico's government news agency Notimex reported.
Food and fuel in Nicaragua remained scarce after Felix hit, even as emergency aid was airlifted into the regional capital of Puerto Cabezas, a town difficult to reach even in good weather.
Johana Aliberto Maquiave, 36, was stuck in Puerto Cabezas, trying to get back to her family in Sandy Bay, the village where the eye of the storm hit.
"I want to know what happened to my three children," she said, fighting back tears. "The poor kids stayed with their dad. I am here with nothing. I came on Sunday to buy food."
Felix wiped out crops and damaged most of the 70 tons of food and emergency goods that had been flown in before the storm.
On Wednesday, it was hard to find a building that wasn't damaged. Puerto Cabezas' hospital was filled with water, and doctors attended to the injured at an improvised clinic.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega flew over the area to survey the damage. He said that the United States and Venezuelan offered aid and that Cuban doctors were already on the ground. Nicaragua's military flew in sheets, mattresses, food and first aid materials.
Residents hacked at fallen trees with machetes, trying to uncover the remains of their humble homes. There was very little electricity, running water or telephone service.
Larry Hansack, 38, gazed at a sea littered with splintered wood and shattered tin, wondering about his nephew, a fisherman who disappeared at sea. "There's no one to help me, and everything is disorganized," he said.
Teresa Flores, 34, rode out the storm at a neighbor's house after her wooden home collapsed, injuring her husband and 3-year-old son. Looters later took what was left.
"They took the clothes, even the barrels where we keep water," she said. "Now we have nothing to drink. We lost all our food, the television set, the microwave, even the toilet. Nothing works. We are pretty much in the street."
At one point during the storm, she tried to check on her home, but "I took a few steps and couldn't move forward. The wind said 'no.'"
The remains of Felix were still dumping rain Wednesday on Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, and thousands of evacuees anxiously stayed away from shaky hillside slums and swollen rivers.
In San Pedro Sula, in northern Honduras, one shantytown filled with water after a river burst its bank. Police rode bulldozers to evacuate slum dwellers from water that was waist-deep and rising, but many refused to leave, fearing their remaining possessions would be stolen.
David Serato, 42, left. "Life is more important than personal belongings," he said. "If I stayed, I would die."
Many had feared a repeat of the 1998 nightmare of Hurricane Mitch, which stalled over Central America for days, causing floods and mudslides that killed nearly 11,000 people and left more than 8,000 missing.
Henriette set off mudslides earlier that killed six people in Acapulco as it moved northward up Mexico's Pacific coast, and a woman drowned in high surf as the storm approached the Baja California peninsula.
Mexican navy Capt. Leopoldo Mendoza said a navy helicopter was searching the Bay of La Paz for a missing boat carrying two Mexicans and two Japanese.
The storm became a hurricane just before its direct hit on the upscale desert resorts of Los Cabos on Baja's southern tip Tuesday. The luxury hotels suffered little damage, but plywood shacks in the surrounding slums were destroyed.
"Everything is soaked," said Homero Cruz Marcelino, a 28-year-old gardener who rode out the storm with his pregnant wife and son in a shack that was reduced to little more than a wooden frame. He estimated the damage at $500, a small fortune given his income.