Hurricane survivors recount days at sea

( AP ) - Cecil Clark and Manuel Vendless could see the lights from land, could see safety, when Hurricane Felix's waves picked up their boat, slammed it deep into the ocean and spit it out into the darkness again.

Still alive, Vendless clung to a rope and Clark somehow crawled onto what remained of their simple fishing vessel. But it wasn't long before Vendless looked up at his friend, his face flashing before Clark in the lightning that crashed overhead, and said simply: "I'm not going to make it."

After he died, Clark lashed the body to the boat, and assumed he was next.

Hours earlier, dozens of fishermen diving for lobster in the sea around a cluster of remote cays off the coast of Nicaragua were unaware that miles away one of history's strongest hurricanes was racing toward them. While the rest of the world, connected to Internet or watching 24-hour news channels, saw Felix's deadly path through the Caribbean Sea, the remote Miskito Indians who live in jungle villages and on tiny, reef islands along the Honduran-Nicaraguan border had no idea the monster storm's eye would soon be passing directly over them.

The first word of the storm came on radio and from Nicaraguan sailors who passed by on boats, urging fisherman to return to ports and others to evacuate low-lying islands where they lived. But the Miskito Indians, descendants of Indians, European settlers and African slaves who speak their own language and have a long-standing mistrust of Nicaragua's central government and President Daniel Ortega, paid little heed to the official warnings. Having spent their lives in stilt homes built over the water, they believed they knew the sea and when to leave it.

It was also the last two weeks of lobster season, the main source of income, and most people took their time pulling in their catches. Then the ocean went wild.

In bustling Maras Cay, 39-year-old Aurora Prada was selling snacks and soda to fishermen and collecting lobster for sale on the mainland when she noticed the darkening sky and the waves tumbling onto land, rising along the beach in a way she had never seen before. She and nine others to rush to a nearby house, seeking refuge.

The wind peeled away the home's simple, wooden walls, lifted the roof and tossed it into the air like a sheet of paper.

With waters rising all around them, the group found a small motor boat and headed toward a relatively protected swampy area, but the winds were so strong it took them two hours to move 50 yards.

"I thought of my children and how I was probably going to leave them orphans," said the single mother of five, all of whom who were safe on the mainland.

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