Mitch, the Tricky Killer

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MANAGUA, Nicaragua: Hurricane Mitch may have ratcheted up its casualty figures by faking out Central American authorities. "Mitch came from the east, which was where people prepared," says TIME reporter Lorraine Orlandi. "But most of the damage actually occurred on the west coast." The hurricane's behavior was also atypical: "People mostly prepared for hurricane-strength winds passing through," says Orlandi. "Nobody imagined that Mitch would stay in one place for almost a week and dump so much rain -- most of the deaths were caused by flooding and mud slides."

The official death toll approached 7,000 Tuesday, and with 13,000 people still listed missing, that count is almost certain to rise. And true to Nicaraguan tradition, the natural disaster is impacting on politics. "President Arnoldo Aleman is being criticized for the slow progress in getting aid to stricken villages," says Orlandi. "And the Sandinistas are attacking him for not declaring a national emergency." Aleman may want to pay more attention to history: It was political fallout from the 1972 killer earthquake that helped sweep the Sandinistas to power seven years later.