San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Escazú Prepares for Mudslides

AUTHORITIES expect 20,000 cubic meters of mudto slide off the side of Cerro Pico Blanco, a mountain thattowers over the western suburb of Escazú, by the end of theMay-November rainy season. However, they say emergencymeasures established since previous mudslides haveresulted in a better-prepared community.According to Catalina Roldán, assistant to the Escazúmayor and member of the Escazú Emergency Committee,two possibilities exist for the impending landslide.In the most positive scenario, the mud expected to slideoff Pico Blanco will fall gradually, without obstructing theAgres River, which runs though the communities of SanAntonio and San Rafael de Escazú, Roldán said.However, if mudslides block the river and form a naturaldam, water could accumulate and finally create a flashflood that could threaten various sectors of Escazú, particularlythose that border the Agres.A bulletin compiled by the Escazú EmergencyCommittee lists the 12 most vulnerable sites in the area,starting with the National Water and Sewer Service (AyA) sand-clearing station on the riverbed, andmoving downhill to locations including theentrance to the protected area of the Escazúhills at Los Filtros, Los Delgado Street,San Antonio Street, the Badilla lots inSanta Teresa, Los Reyes Street, Coyogres,Giacomin Café, Málaga Street and PlazaColonial in San Rafael.Roldán said that based on the river’srecent behavior, the Escazú EmergencyCommittee, made up of interested membersof the community, Red Cross volunteers andthe Escazú Municipality, remains hopeful.“We are very optimistic. The intermittentrains we have had so far this year haveallowed the riverbed to clear up,” she said,adding that even so, the committee has notlost sight of the need to communicate themudslide threat to the community.AS part of a prevention system recommendedto the Escazú Municipality by theNational Emergency Commission (CNE),members of these communities holdmonthly meetings in their neighborhoodsto create emergency plans for each of thevulnerable areas.“The objective is for each communityto understand what is happening and knowwhat resources they have during an emergency.The course of action during anemergency has to be a rehearsed, automaticthing,” she said.After each community concludes workon its emergency plan, it will hold reviewsessions every three months. So far, mostcommunities have already made mapsidentifying the location of main streets andalternate routes for evacuation, lists ofhandicapped residents who might requireassistance during an emergency, and directoriesof all participating families, Roldánsaid.According to Didier Esquivel, CNEchief of prevention, the National EmergencyCommission also recommended the installationof rain meters on the Escazú hills andmonthly monitoring of this area by volunteersfrom the community, two suggestionsthe community has followed.“LAST year’s mudslide generated fearin the community, but this year, we have notdeclared a yellow alert,” said Esquivel,referring to October 2004, when almost20,000 cubic meters toppled off the protectedarea between Cerro San Miguel and PicoBlanco and into the Agres River, causing theCNE to declare a state of yellow alert (TT,Oct. 29). “The river is behaving well. Whatwe need to do is continue monitoring.”Giacomin Café owner Luigi Giacomin,who has been informed that his café standsat a vulnerable location, said he is not worriedabout the mudslide.“The closest point to the river is ourparking lot, and we expect the mudslidewould affect uphill Escazú more than anything.We haven’t heard much talk aboutthe subject, either. People do not seem tooscared,” he said.Because the land closest to the expectedmudslide site is in a protected area, it isuninhabited.FROM April 25 to May 5, 18 workersfrom the Ministry of Public Works andTransport (MOPT) cleared the riverbed ofdebris piled up after last year’s rainy season,manually removing approximately200 cubic meters of mud, rock and trash, aswell as 30 tree trunks, Roldán said.“The job had to be done manually toreduce the environmental impact heavymachinery could cause in the area,” she said.The Association for Conservation andSustainable Development of the EscazúHills (CODESE) celebrated this decision.“Taking a tractor into the protected areato remove the material clogging the riverwould have had a significant (environmental)impact,” said Diana Rojas, coordinatorof the nonprofit organization.For more information on how to jointhe monthly emergency committee meetings,contact Catalina Roldán at the EscazúMunicipality at 228-5757. For assistancein case of a mudslide, call 911, theEscazú Committee at 228-7762 or theCNE at 220-3588.If a Mudslide Occurs:Escazú residents living within 50meters of the river should monitor thewater’s behavior continuously. If there isheavy rainfall and the river’s water levelrises quickly, evacuate your home.Heavy rainfall combined with a considerabledecrease in the river’s waterlevel, while the water’s color shifts frombrown to clear, may indicate a waterblockage upstream – another reason toevacuate.Find a safe spot on higher ground,such as a neighbor’s house, and do notreturn home until it stops raining or theriver seems normal again.Do not circulate in vehicles near theriver or on bridges if the water level rises.Warn your neighbors and collaboratewith authorities.Source: Escazú Emergency Committee

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