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Tipper Gore Visits Honduras

November 11, 1998

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ After a long day of shoveling mud and making tortillas, Tipper Gore rested in the same school yard where dozens of refugees were living because their homes had been swept away by Hurricane Mitch.

The wife of Vice President Al Gore had pitched in Tuesday to help clean up the school and feed hungry children in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.

More importantly, she arrived with medical supplies, congressmen and a promise of an additional $10 million in U.S. aid to hurricane-devastated Central America.

``This is a tragedy of Biblical proportions,″ Mrs. Gore said after meeting with residents of Tegucigalpa’s El Chile neighborhood, which was ripped apart by a torrent of mud. ``They’re telling me stories of entire villages being washed away.″

Mrs. Gore’s visit did much to heighten spirits in El Chile. Hundreds of children followed her through the streets. A few pushed past security to hold her hand.

``The important people never come to this neighborhood,″ said 27-year-old Claudia Boquin, who put her daughter on her shoulders for a better view.

Mrs. Gore delivered an aid shipment that included blankets, sheets and 500 gallons of drinking water for residents who have had little since Mitch killed an estimated 6,600 Hondurans last month.

Mrs. Gore was heading to Managua, Nicaragua, today.

While Mrs. Gore surveyed Central America’s devastation, governments and lending institutions around the world moved to help the region pick up the pieces.

France canceled debts owed by Nicaragua and Honduras, while Ireland announced it was doubling aid to the countries ravaged by the storm. Britain said it hoped to contribute to a trust fund for the region and added its support to calls for a moratorium on debt payments by all affected countries.

Cuba announced it was canceling Nicaraguan debts of $50 million, nearly all of which apparently was borrowed by Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government in the 1980s.

And the World Bank announced it was making $200 million available from existing projects to assist the nations damaged by Mitch.

Mitch became a tropical storm Oct. 22 in the Caribbean, bringing storms to Costa Rica and Panama. It became a hurricane on Oct. 25 and battered Honduras while stalled just off the coast. It moved inland as a tropical storm on Oct. 27, still dumping rain.

The storm knocked out hundreds of bridges, leaving many communities isolated. It also devastated power and sewer lines throughout Honduras and virtually obliterated the nation’s farming sector.

Honduran President Carlos Flores welcomed the support from the world and from Mrs. Gore. With her boots and pants still caked in mud, the president invited her to his home Tuesday night for a pizza dinner.

``The example is something that’s not forgotten,″ Flores told Mrs. Gore.

Stressing Washington’s commitment to long-term relief, Mrs. Gore said U.S. military engineers were rushing to Honduras to repair roads and bridges and ensure that fuel and food could be moved to stricken towns.

The $10 million in new aid for various projects is in addition to the $70 million the Clinton administration already has committed to Central America.

Mrs. Gore was joined on her trip by Brian Atwood, who heads the U.S. Agency for International Development, Nicaraguan pitcher Dennis Martinez of the Atlanta Braves and John Leonard, deputy assistant secretary of state for Latin America.

The congressional delegation included Democratic senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana; Republican Senator Jim Colby of Arizona; and Democratic representatives Gary Ackerman of New York and Xavier Becerra of California.

Ackerman said he hoped there would be bipartisan support for long-term U.S. assistance.

``This gives us an opportunity to embrace our neighbors,″ he said. ``If we can’t do this on a nonpartisan basis, we’re going to go nowhere with this congress.″

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