San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Fear Lingers in Orosi Valley Homes

CALLE JUCÓ, Orosi Valley – Although 23 riversidehomes in this valley community, southeast of San José,face the potential threat of mudslides, only one of them isempty.Inhabitants of the other houses are taking steps to avoidtragedy.A year ago, heavy rains caused an avalanche of mudand rock that ripped through the small village (TT, June 27,2003). Fortunately, early warning and quick evacuationsprevented a tragedy like the one the year before in the nearbyvalley town of Loaiza.In 2002, a mudslide claimed the lives of seven peopleand destroyed 13 homes in Loaiza. Before that disaster, theEnvironment Ministry had warned residents of Loaiza thathigh levels of deforestation put the area at risk of landslides(TT, Sept. 6, 2002).Since the deadly avalanche, 10 families have movedout of Loaiza, and the remaining three families are expectedto relocate soon with government assistance.“THE Orosi Valley is one of the most vulnerable sectionsof the country, and has the most threats in such asmall place,” said geologist Lidier Esquivel, who workswith the National Emergency Commission (CNE). “Thereare active fault lines, floods and mud slides.”The community of Calle Jucó is one bumpy street linedwith homes. Homes on one side of the street overlook thesmall river of Jucó, and homes on the other side of thestreet have coffee-planted mountains as their backyards.Because there is only one way in and one way out ifanother avalanche occurs, some Calle Jucó residents toldThe Tico Times their plan is to run up theirhilly backyards. Residents in homes lookingover the river are in more danger.“The river carries all sorts of stuff, fromreal fine silt to rocks the size of this house,”said Alexander Torres, coordinator of theCommunity Emergency Committee, whosecream-colored house overlooks the river.MARTA Solano, who lives across thestreet and two homes up, says that whenthe river gets wild from lots of rain androcks start falling, it sounds like a reallyloud truck passing by her house.“But it’s never actually a truck,” shesaid, shaking her head.Last month, the Community EmergencyCommittee installed two sirens onthe corner of her house.In the event of an emergency, a homeat the top of the mountain would radiodown to the pulpería, which in turn wouldtelephone the homes with sirens. ThenSolano and the others would press a buttonto activate the sirens and warn the communityto evacuate.“The benefit that Jucó had, and has, overLoaiza is that they are organized andinformed,” Esquivel said. “Also, the areafrom where the mudslide began is muchhigher and further away from the population,making it less dangerous than Loaiza.”TORRES says some residents arescared and would like to leave for a saferarea, but they have been picky.“Twenty-three families have to leavebecause their homes are unsafe. But theydon’t like the areas they have been offered.They also want to leave together, and findingspace for 23 families to move is difficult,”he said.Although Torres says 23 homes areuninhabitable, Esquivel, who drew up thelist, says some just need to take extra precautions.Of the 23 homes, only five mustbe abandoned, according to the geologist.The CNE is working with the Ministryof Housing and Urbanization to find newhomes for the five families.Torres said some families fled theirhomes after last year’s avalanche, and theMixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS)helped pay their rent for three months. But,after the three months were up, the familieshad nowhere to go but back to their houses.SOME residents, such as YorleneGarcía, who hasn’t lived in Calle Jucó longenough to experience an avalanche, thinksothers are overreacting.“Every time it rains and some rocksfall, people get scared and hysteric and arepractically in tears,” García said. “Somepeople get really alarmed and scare everybodyelse.”Torres says the University of CostaRica has been helping the community bysending psychologists to help people dealwith the traumatic effects of last year’savalanche.“It really affected people,” he said.GEOLOGIST Esquivel says humansand nature have always been at odds inOrosi Valley, but now there are more people,more deforestation and more infrastructure,and not all are suitable for the area.Together, the three factors increase thedangers of living in the valley. The longtermplan of the emergency commission,he said, is to slowly move people fromhigh-risk areas to safer areas.“There is no doubt the community ismore safe now than it was two years ago,”Esquivel said. “They are more informedand they are organized. But, they still needto be aware of the risks of living there.“Overall, the valley is still attractivefor tourists and it is basically safe,” heconcluded.

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