- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras | A powerful earthquake toppled dozens of homes in Honduras and Belize early Thursday, killing at least six people and injuring 40 as terrified residents spilled from their homes across much of Central America.

The magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck at 2:24 a.m. off the Caribbean coast of Honduras, 80 miles northeast of the beach town of La Ceiba, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo.

“People were running for the door,” Alfredo Cedeno said from the reception desk at the Gran Hotel Paris in La Ceiba. “You could really feel it and you could see it - the water came out of the pool.”

Reynaldo Funez, 15, was buried in his house in Pineda de la Lima, 120 miles north of the capital, Tegucigalpa, and 6-year-old Deily Yazmin Santos was killed when her house collapsed in the beach town of Morazan, national fire commander Col. Carlos Cordero said.

Ana Maria Rivera, spokeswoman for Honduras’ Permanent Emergency Commission, said Jose Vicente Maradiaga died of a heart attack during the earthquake in the seaside town of Tela and a 3-year-old boy was crushed when his roof collapsed in Mapulaca near the Salvadoran border. She didn’t have Mr. Maradiaga’s age or the boy’s name.

Two other people were killed in home collapses, according to the commission’s chief, Marcos Burgos, who didn’t have details. At least 40 people were injured, most along the Caribbean coast.

The earthquake destroyed at least 57 homes and damaged an additional 65, the commission said. It said 14 schools were damaged, as were two Roman Catholic churches and three bridges.

Democracy Bridge, which spans the country’s largest river, the Ulua, collapsed in the town of El Progreso, Col. Cordero said. The bridge is one of two connecting the northern city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest, with the rest of the country. The second bridge was deemed safe.

San Pedro Sula is scheduled to host a summit of foreign ministers of the Organization of American States next week. There was no immediate indication that the event would be affected.

At least five wooden houses on stilts collapsed in three Belizean coastal towns, while Belize City residents ran into the street as glasses and framed pictures crashed off shelves. A water tower toppled in the town of Independence and electricity was out all the way to the Mexican border, local officials said.

The earthquake was felt strongly in El Salvador, Guatemala and northern Nicaragua, but no major damage was reported in those countries.

The earthquake was relatively shallow, with a depth of only 6 miles, increasing its potential to cause major damage, said Don Blakeman, a U.S. Geological Survey specialist.

The USGS said a magnitude-4.8 aftershock struck off Honduras about three hours after the earthquake.

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