San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Ricans Speak Out From Hurricane Katrina’s Aftermath

AS many as 2,000 Costa Ricans living in the path of Hurricane Katrina weathered what is being called the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Some of those who spoke with The Tico Times described harrowing scenes of destruction that are unimaginable even in Costa Rica, a country frequently battered by earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions. But among the wreckage, there are inspirational stories and persistent optimism even when homes and nearly every possession have been lost.Dr. Vinicio Madrigal, a bilingual Costa Rican who has lived in the United States for more than 30 years, remained in New Orleans, the city where he lives, for two weeks after the hurricane struck, the floodwaters rose, and blackouts, along with a black hole of services, rendered people helpless in the face of disease and their own medical conditions.He commandeered medicine, vaccines and supplies from an abandoned nursing home, clinics and the offices of his friends in the medical community, and treated people free of charge for 14 days before emergency medical teams entered the city in earnest.At first he treated people single-handedly, then gathered help from other doctors and took his free medical assistance to the streets, serving 1,500 patients and administering 4,000 prescriptions and 800 vaccines.“WE went to the streets, to a fire station, to apartment complexes, and we let them come to us. We provided a service that was absolutely not available. We had to venture out into the community to look for them. (Some of the patients) couldn’t move from where they were,” he said.He and his medical team used a National Guard escort and vehicles to maneuver through the obstacles the flood cast before them. They delivered food, water and medical supplies along with their treatments.Medical problems remain the same in a disaster of this sort as under normal circumstances, he said. “The real story was that there were a lot of unmet needs: peoplewhose heart medicine ran out, diabetes patients without medicine, and so on,” he said.HIS work elicited reactions he won’t easily forget.“People cried,” he said. “They were so grateful. They came out, hugged us and said, ‘I will never forget this.’”A fellow Costa Rican man living in a predominately Hispanic community gave Madrigal a CD of traditional Costa Rican songs in thanks.Among the preponderance of blame placed on the slow federal response to the emergency, and the footage of thieves sacking businesses, Madrigal is quick to emphasize the stories of hope and the goodwill the disaster has engendered.“The greatest thing that has come out of this is the kindness of human nature, selflessness when fellow humans are in harm’s way,” he said. “Yes, yes, there may have been some idiots who ran around and looted, but we have seen an outpouring of human kindness, an outpouring of support, nothing but hope. We have seen how people are standing shoulder- to-shoulder, and in the future we will see these people stand with us in the rebuilding of our city.”He is not blind to the problems with the federal response, but he said now is not the time to place blame.“Our city is on its knees, but its collective back has not been broken,” he said.“We shall stand again. This is a city with a 200-year proud history and it will take more than this to erase that. Make sure the people in Costa Rica know we are going to survive, to do well.”ENRIQUE Obando, a Costa Rican who has lived in the United States for 22 years, left his home in New Orleans two days before the hurricane struck. His wife, two daughters and grandson in tow, he stayed in a shelter in Houston, Texas, until early this week when they returned to their house.“The damage is practically total,” he said. “There is no power. The army and Red Cross are giving hot meals, ice and water. We will stay with a brother-in-law of mine, and tomorrow I’ll go to work. The normality is returning.”He works in a construction equipment rental company; business will likely be booming as the city is rebuilt.THE assistance available has been satisfactory, Obando said. In spite of the “many failures in communication and coordination at first,” federal and private organizations are now working in tandem to provide aid.Obando counts himself as fortunate among the victims of the disaster. Others, he said, were “fairly destitute. Their houses were under water and they didn’t have anything.“My situation is not bad; I’m going to work, my wife is going to work, the house is practically destroyed completely, but insurance will cover most of it,” he said.“Some people don’t have insurance. But the majority is doing well.”However, he added, “This experience is the hardest of my life. This is the worst disaster to strike the United States.”XINIA Troxler, a Costa Rican immigrant and psychologist, left her home in New Orleans with her husband and a few possessions the day before the hurricane struck, thinking she would only be away three days. Yesterday, she said she had not yet returned to see the damage, but is sure her house is wrecked. On the day the hurricane arrived, Troxler’s 23-year-old daughter had quit her job, left her apartment and planned to move back to New Orleans from Washington, D.C. to live at home.“For the first time in my life I cannot offer a home to my daughter,” Troxler said.“To tell my daughter, ‘Amor, no podes venir porque no tenemos casa,’ were the hardest words that I have had to tell her.”She has three weeks of pent-up frustration over the official handling of the evacuation, the lack of attention given to the levees in the months before the hurricane season began, and the political bickering between the local and state governments that she said has paralyzed the emergency relief effort. The disaster, she noticed, changed the definitions people have for each other.“All New Orleanians are now referred to as ‘evacuees.’ I am no longer a Tica, a New Orleans resident, a woman, a Latina, a psychologist… I am an ‘evacuee.’ That is OK… my family and I are alive with a positive outlook and we will rebuild our future,” she said.

Comments are closed.