Tico Disaster Victims Fare Well

September 16, 2005

SO far, not one Costa Rican emigrant numbers among the dead in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Foreign Ministry reports. Calls from the displaced residents of New Orleans and other affected areas are filtering in slowly as Costa Ricans report to their provisional consulate established at Southeastern Louisiana University.About 4,000 Costa Ricans live in New Orleans, the ministry estimates, and 1-2,000 live in the affected regions, which include parts of New Orleans and towns in the swathe the storm carved through Louisiana Mississippi and Alabama.The official body count in New Orleans climbed to more than 400 this week, although U.S. authorities estimate the total number of dead will not reach the 10,000 the city’s mayor, Ray Nagin, initially predicted.HOWEVER, the Foreign Ministry reports that Costa Ricans are not even among those on the lists of the injured.Costa Rican General Consul Gonzalo Calderón, speaking by phone from his temporary university campus headquarters, told The Tico Times the numbers of Costa Ricans reporting their status is swelling as word spreads that the consulate is trying to track the survivors, and as phone lines become operational again.“We have had a lot of requests for information about missing people, and we have helped some people find their family members,” Calderón said.About half of the Costa Ricans living in the destroyed region – about 1,000 – are doing so illegally, he said, but many of them are calling the consulate nevertheless.“THEY have already called their families” before contacting officials, he said.“That’s the first thing they do. The communications here are really bad. You would never in your life understand what has happened here. In the first five days there were no communications whatsoever, so if you were alive, there was no way of telling your family you were alive.”He attributes the lack of casualties among fellow Costa Ricans to prompt warnings of the impending storm and the swift evacuation of the city.“Katrina came on a Monday afternoon. I left the city on Sunday morning, and I think I was one of the last people (from Costa Rica) to leave town. Costa Ricans are very smart, smart enough to know when they have to do something,” he said.IMPROMPTU and unofficial shelters have hindered the consulate’s attempt to connect friends and families. Calderón said the official list of shelters is 140 strong, but he estimates about 200 other shelters are not on the list.“About a block from here, there’s a church – it’s not a shelter (not officially listed). The church opened its doors and let people in, and there are about 60 people there and a couple of Costa Ricans,” he said.He returned to downtown New Orleans last week to gather documents from the consulate’s regular office in the World Trade Center and witnessed the destruction first-hand.“The water was up to the ceiling of the houses on Wednesday. It hasn’t receded much. The only thing you could see was a lot of boats coming and going. It’s like a lake, really,” he said.“You could see all the soldiers in the world (in the area near the consulate),” he added. “Soldiers, Humvees, amphibious vehicles – it makes you feel like it was a war zone, but at the same time it gives you a very good feeling of security because of the looters.”Costa Ricans searching for friends and family members in the area can call the consulate at (011) (985) 549-5454 or (504) 723-4043, or e-mail consulcrno@bellsouth.net with the complete name, birth date and, if possible, the location where the person lives.The Red Cross Web site, www.redcross. org, has information on missing family members and ways to help.FOOD for the Hungry Costa Rica (FHICR), the regional branch of the international aid organization, is collecting donations to send to its relief fund and projects to help victims in the United States.In recognition of the severity of the disaster, 100% of any donation will be directed to the emergency relief effort: the nonprofit organization will not deduct administrative fees from donations made in Costa Rica.“We have committed $110,000 to churches and organizations for immediate relief but also for long-term development with people who have lost everything,” Pete Newell, part of the Food for the Hungry assessment team sent to the afflicted areas, told The Tico Times.“It was chaotic in the disaster area, and the funding that we have given to these organizations will make a direct impact on families affected by this hurricane,” he said.For information, contact FHICR in San José at 250-3164 or e-mail fhicostarica@fhi.net. Donations can also be made online through the organization’s Web site, www.fh.org, or by calling the U.S. branch at (800) 2-HUNGER (248-6437).

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