Hurricane Mitch Article Part 1

Text condensed from:

11/07/98- Updated 01:34 PM ET The Nation's Homepage

As you read Part One of this article, do not use a dictionary. Try to guess the meaning of the bold-faced words from context. Write your guesses in the margins. Once you have finished reading, complete the vocabulary chart in Exercise One and check your answers.

A look back at Mitch's rampage

EDITOR'S NOTE - Born as a hurricane in the wee hours of Oct. 24, Mitch grew into one of the biggest - and deadliest - tropical cyclones of this century. By the time it broke up off the Florida coast Thursday, the damage wrought by Mitch had reached biblical proportions: an estimated 10,000 dead, thousands more missing, billions of dollars in damage. Associated Press correspondents throughout Central America contributed to this picture of the storm's wrath.

Mitch veered onto the forecasters' video monitors as a huge, threatening swirl in the middle of the western Caribbean.

"Satellite images suggest that the hurricane is strengthening," the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned Oct. 24. But that Saturday morning, and for many hours afterward, Mitch's path was far from clear.

That afternoon, it was 215 miles south-southwest of Kingston, Jamaica, and moving north at 7 mph. Officials there prepared for a hit. Cuba feared it would be next.

But both nations were largely spared as the slow-moving storm meandered through the Caribbean. Three days later Mitch's target finally became clear: Central America, a land mass of poor nations, fragile houses, vulnerable crops.

Mitch, now the fourth-strongest Caribbean hurricane this century, moved in for the kill.

Vacationers at the Posada del Sol resort on the island of Guanaja, 75 miles off the Honduran coast, remember the shrieking wind - a sound like a freight train or a 747 jet taking off.

Secure inside the concrete compound, they waited a hellish 36 hours, listening to the crashing tree limbs, roof tiles and big concrete blocks - and the infernal wind.

Many of Guanaja's 5,000 residents, meanwhile, waited out the storm in a protected canyon extending across the island.

    Section Translation

  • Veered onto: appeared on, after changing direction
  • A hit: a strike, an attack
  • Were largely spared: avoided serious damage
  • Moved in for the kill: got closer before striking
  • Infernal: hellish
For more than a day, the hurricane's eye hovered over Guanaja, ripping apart wooden houses on stilts, tearing boats from their docks, knocking out power and telephones.

The storm wiped out the brightly colored flowers and greenery that once covered the island, leaving behind a barren landscape.

"I've never seen anything like it before," recalled Marvin Stahl of Waskom, Texas, who was on a diving vacation with his wife. "There is no foliage on the island - every tree, all the limbs are gone, all the leaves are gone."

Soon, the storm's fury moved to Honduras itself, and its Central American neighbors. It dumped as much as 25 inches of rain in a single day. Rivers swelled to several times their normal size, and the brown rapids snatched up houses, cows - even people - and carried them downstream, sometimes to the ocean.

The heavy rains soaked the hill country of Honduras and Nicaragua until the soil in some places became so wet it finally slipped loose, sending mud, rocks and trees spilling down onto homes - entire towns.

Honduran President Carlos Flores Facusse went on national television to declare his country's Caribbean coast a disaster zone.

The rain - up to 25 inches in mountain areas - had begun to take a huge toll. Tens of thousands were evacuated from low-lying areas. The floodwaters in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa rose to stunning levels: the third floor of a hospital was evacuated as the Choluteca River poured into the second floor.

At a noisy shelter in a trade school, mothers wept silently as they cradled their children on mattresses slapped on the floor. Barefoot kids hollered as they ran after a soccer ball.

Edwin Israel, 14, waited patiently behind a small group of adults while they listed all their needs: food, medicine, clothing, hope.

After the grownups left, Edwin admitted what he wanted most.

"Shoes," he said softly, glancing at his bare feet. "Hurricane Mitch took mine away."

(Associated Press)

    Section Translation

  • Hovered over: remained above
  • Wiped out: completely destroyed
  • Snatched up: picked up quickly
  • Coast: seashore
  • Shelter: a type of emergency housing (e.g. "a homeless shelter")

Exercise One: Vocabulary (Clues from Context)

Compare your definitions for the bold-faced words with the definitions given below. Then fill in the chart. Write a quick note or two telling what clues helped you understand the word's meaning. The first one has been done for you.

Bold-faced Word

Definition or Synonym

Clues that Helped

swirl something that looks round and can move forecasters can see it on a monitor; we know Mitch is a hurricane.
making a loud high-pitched sound
looking at quickly
wooden platforms that boats are tied to
made very wet
cause a lot of damage
incredible; surprising
increased in size
poles which can elevate houses
a group of buildings
section of a river with fast moving water
noncount word for leaves
deposited; left all at once

Exercise Two: Pair Discussion

  1. What's the worst storm you've ever experienced? How was your experience different from those that survived Mitch?
  2. What's the worst natural disaster your country has ever experienced? How did it compare to Hurricane Mitch? What did the leaders of your country do to help?
  3. What effect has Hurricane Mitch had on the children of Central America? How do children respond to natural disasters differently than adults? If you had children, how would you explain the hurricane to them?

Go to Hurricane Mitch Article Part 2

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