San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Floods Destroy Roads, Bridges

The Executive Branch yesterday declared a state of emergency in parts of the Caribbean and Northern Zone that have been devastated by floods.

Though no one died in the disaster, some 1,300 homes, 2,000 kilometers of roads and critical water infrastructure have been harmed by the floods, causing an estimated $10 million in damages, according to preliminary estimates of the National Emergency Commission (CNE).

Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias called the recent floods disasters of “immense magnitude’’ before signing the emergency decree that dedicates more money to disaster relief and allows the government to expedite contracts for equipment and reconstruction.

“The damage is seriously alarming,” National Liberation Party (PLN) legislator Jorge Méndez told The Tico Times. Méndez represents the region.

“If the roads aren’t repaired, it’s going to threaten Costa Rican agricultural products and even exports, like banana, pineapple and ornamental plants,” which are growing in the region and exported from the port of Limón.

The most difficult repairs, according to Emergency Commission spokeswoman Rebeca Madrigal, will be more than 130 bridges in the region that were damaged during the floods. An estimated 20 bridges have collapsed altogether.

National Meteorological Institute (INM) meteorologist Gustavo Murillo said the torrential rains that started July 5 and extended into Tuesday were the result of high winds from the Caribbean that collided with a low-pressure system coming from the Pacific coast.

Though the Emergency Commission has lifted weather alerts throughout the country since the flooding, Murillo said area residents should still be cautious.

“A lot of water has fallen on the area, so the terrain is saturated with water, which could cause problems if there is more rain,” he said.

Three rivers, the Colorado, Tortuguero and Muerte, all flooded and caused the massive inundations. As of late this week, all but the Colorado were back to normal levels.

“Our rivers are very young,” said Madrigal, “so they don’t have a basin to pass through, and they easily change course this way and that.” She added that the fact that many people have settled in the rivers’ flood plains hasn’t helped the situation, either.

During the floods nearly 300 people had to seek out shelters in Pococí, a Caribbeanslope town, which Madrigal said was hit hardest by floods. The commission has already spent more than $200,000 to feed and house displaced families and for reconstruction efforts that began this week and involved clearing and repairing streets.

Madrigal said the commission is working with the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) to repair the damaged bridges, although the ministry said continued high water levels have slowed attempts at reconstruction.

The ministry said in a statement it is working on a “prototype bridge” that could be used to speed up reconstruction of downed and damaged bridges. The bridge would be 10 to 20 meters long and could be easily modified to replace different downed bridges.

For now, Public Works and Transport Minister Karla González said the ministry is looking into the possibility of laying railroad platforms across rivers as makeshift bridges.

Further plans include either buying materials so that communities can pitch in and make repairs, or holding a bidding process for reconstruction projects, which would be sped up by the emergency decree.

Pococí resident Irvin Castro, 22, said he saw entire fields of pineapple and banana plantations destroyed by the floods, and added that many in the industry are having a hard time making it into town.

“The banana plantations are in the farthest parts of the region. They are places very far from here and it is tough for the people to get out of there. The gravel on the streets has been washed away so some roads are completely destroyed and trucks can’t use them,” he said.

It was just last year that the plantain industry and some banana producers in the Caribbean zone recovered from destructive 2005 floods.

In December 2004 and January 2005, record-breaking rainfall engorged rivers and flooded towns throughout the eastern part of the country, forcing more than 8,500 people into temporary shelters and taking four lives (TT, Jan 14, 2005). Some 3,000 hectares of crops, mostly banana and plantain fields, suffered heavy losses as well. Plantain exports subsequently dropped in half.

Cantons including Guácimo, Pococí, Siquirres and Matina, in the Caribbean, as well as the Northern Zone areas of Los Chiles and San Carlos and parts of Heredia, north of San José, are among those affected.

The floods are the latest spurt of nasty weather so far during this rainy season, and officials warned further heavy rains are likely during the coming months.


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