San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Floods Displace Thousands

AFFLICTED communities throughout the country have begun the Herculean task of cleaning and repairing their towns after torrential downpours last weekend flooded vast areas of the Pacific coast and the Central Valley. Their work is hampered by persistent, but lighter rains that began Wednesday and are expected to continue until the rainy season ends in December.By press time, emergency relief crews were focusing on small communities south of the Central Pacific coastal town of Quepos, and most of the more than 1,600 people around the country evacuated to emergency shelters and the houses of family members were returning home – if they had homes to return to.The floods, which prompted the government to declare a state of emergency, caused an estimated ¢10 billion ($20.6 million) in damages, but did not result in any deaths or injuries, according to the Red Cross. At press time, the National Emergency Commission (CNE) maintained a red alert in the cantons of Quepos, Filadelfia, Nicoya, Pérez Zeledón and Buenos Aires.“It looked like a million big toothpicks everywhere. The whole town is just full of trees,” Bob Klenz, a resident of Portalón, 20 kilometers south of Quepos, told The Tico Times. The Portalón River flooded its banks and swept through the back of the town, he said, “and wiped it out.”He added, “You’d see people trying to carry out a TV the next day and it was covered with mud; the beds are all broken and everything was in shambles. Some of the logs came right into the houses. It will be tough for this area to recover, if it does.”THE water remained deep in that region through the middle of this week, fortified by nightly rains, though the torrential rains ceased by Sunday.Early reports indicated four people had died in the floods, but the Red Cross clarified later that they died in rivers, but as results of accidents that were unrelated to flooding. Though the floods spared human lives, they wrought destruction on houses, cars, roads, bridges, sewer systems and aqueducts.Rain-triggered landslides blocked and damaged 198 stretches of highway; swelling rivers undermined and damaged 64 bridges; and water damaged or swept away 398 houses in the 259 flooded communities.IN one of the heaviest flood zones – around Portalón and El Silencio, among other towns – small African palm and tree farmers reported heavy damage. African palm growers lost 300 of the 400 hectares (740 out of 990 acres) planted, the Ministry of Agriculture estimated, for a loss of ¢40 million ($82,000). Other small farms of pineapple and cattle, among other products, are also damaged, but the ministry did not begin to assess the extent of their losses until Wednesday, with no results available by press time.Hurricane Rita flung the rain this way as it gathered strength over the Gulf of Mexico Sept. 22, National Meteorological Institute (IMN) meteorologist Werner Stolz told The Tico Times. When it became a category-four storm, it hurled warm, humid air from the Caribbean over Costa Rica.The air struck the mountains and was forced upward, which caused it to cool and reduced the amount of water vapor it could carry. It shed its cargo of vapor in the form of rain on its path to the Pacific.The skies cleared by Sunday evening, but before they did, some weather stations recorded extremely heavy rainfall on the days between Sept. 22 (Thursday) and Sept. 25 (Sunday). In Liberia, the capital of the northwestern province of Guanacaste, 279.2 mm (11 inches) were reported for the four-day stretch, about two-thirds of the rain that has fallen there during the entire month.Judging by climatic conditions in the Atlantic, meteorogists expect another downpour sometime in October, but cannot specifiy a date.THOUGH no official numbers are available, tourism chambers in Quepos and another Pacific coastal town, Dominical, reported only slight water damage to the hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related buildings in the region. Impassable roads, however, prevented vistors from reaching, or leaving, destinations such as Nosara, a popular surf town on the Nicoya Peninsula.Foreign aid had already begun to alleviate the damages the rain caused when Taiwan offered $150,000 Monday. The government’s declaration Tuesday of a state of emergency also mobilized $5 million in state funds for relief and reconstruction.President Abel Pacheco toured the flood zones by helicopter Monday and assured victims of some of the heaviest flooding in El Silencio that the government will not “abandon” them, promising support for the newly homeless while they sort out their housing options.“The houses we rebuild certainly will not be beside the rivers,” he said at his weekly Cabinet meeting. “How can it be that after all that has happened, we build houses beside the rivers? We already know they flood. By God, let’s be logical.”Mixing politics with emergency relief, Pacheco linked the rescue effort to his pet piece of legislation still pending a vote, the tax plan, which “would have given more resources to the state to help the victims,” he said in a statement.The Red Cross is accepting donations of non-perishable foods, water and personal hygiene products for relief in every stricken Community. Monetary donations for Red Cross relief efforts are also welcome and can be deposited in the following bank accounts: Banco Nacional, 100100-7, Banco de Costa Rica, 176-003-3 and Banco Popular, 5000-7, all in colones.Klenz said the Portalón School seeksdonations; to help, call 787-5198 or 787-5233.“They didn’t have much when the rivercame through, but now they have nothing,”he said.

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