Alma wreckage looms as Atlantic hurricane season starts

May 30, 2008

Tropical Storm Alma has come and gone, leaving behind it a wake of flooding, destroyed homes, roads and aqueducts, and forcing hundreds of Costa Ricans to take refuge in schools and churches turned relief shelters.

As weather analysts noted the start of the Atlantic hurricane season this weekend, with Tropical Storm Arthur brewing near Belize, Costa Rica is reckoning with damage after Thursday’s nasty weather swept in from the Pacific.

Emergency workers reached the last groups of truckers and travelers who for more than 40 hours were stranded atop Cerro de la Muerte, the highest point on

Inter-American Highway south

, bringing 500 people to safety, according to National Emergency Commission (CNE) spokesman Reinaldo Carballo. He added that aid workers managed to escort away the semitrailer truck drivers who initially refused to leave their vehicles for fear of losing their cargo.

An earlier estimate published in the national press put the number of travelers trapped there at 900, but Carballo told The Tico Times that the figure was just an initial calculation and that no one remains stranded on the Cerro.

The

Inter-American Highway

is still closed because of blockages and subsidence.

The CNE sent helicopters with food, drinking water, relief supplies and medical staff from the Southern Zone town of San Isidro de El General to residents in communities in the canton of Pérez Zeledón that are isolated because of the highway damage and a collapsed bridge over River General.

Overall, the latest tally of Alma’s wreckage, according to emergency officials, includes 117 roads and 22 waterworks systems. A total for wrecked homes and business was not available, but Carballo said 1,500 people are residing in 38 shelters. As many as 20,000 Costa Ricans were directly hit by Alma, whether from flooded residences or workplaces, or being cut off from water or other supplies. Another 55,000 are being “indirectly affected,” meaning that obstacles like caved-in roads and bridges are stopping them from making their regular commute.

No deaths have been reported, said Carballo.

While the Red Cross and CNE provide humanitarian relief, the Transportation Ministry (MOPT) has the task of getting the nation’s traffic moving again. “The ministry is working hard to open the national roads that have been affected,” MOPT spokesman Omar Segura told The Tico Times on Friday.

Carballo said CNE is satisfied with its response efforts. “The commission began preparing before the storm hit,” he said. “They had emergency workers studying the protocol around the country. The commission was ready.”

Carballo added that the government has not yet deemed it necessary to seek foreign aid.

He did not give an estimated finishing date for recovery.

“We haven’t finished fixing the damage yet from last year – (we’re) only 50 or 60 percent of the way done,” said the emergency commission spokesman. “So while we’re still recovering from the last season, we’re facing the start another hurricane season.”

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