Relief reaches 80% of Alma’s worst victims in Costa Rica

May 30, 2008

Relief workers persevered yesterday, making headway to reach residents of some of Costa Rica’s hardest hit communities after Tropical Storm Alma drenched the region last week killing at least four people.

The National Emergency Commission (CNE) carved a path to Pérez Zeledón, a Southern Zone canton that had been isolated since Alma swept in from the Pacific Thursday, and brought food and other supplies to the region’s inhabitants, the state-run relief agency said in a communiqué yesterday.

CNE said it managed to reach 80 percent of the communities that were cut off.

Many of the more than 1,750 people forced from their flooded homes to take refuge in 45 shelters returned home yesterday. Now only 412 remain in six shelters, the emergency authorities said.

However, the commission said it will maintain its “Red Alert” for Pérez Zeledón, and the cantons of Aguirre and Parrita, both in the central Pacific Puntarenas province, until further relief reaches inhabitants there and more progress is made on the roads and rivers surrounding them.

One main road, the

Inter-American Highway South

, remains a major concern since motorists and tourists were trapped for two days atop Cerro de la Muerte, its highest point, and later brought to safety.

But the road damage remains severe, according to a separate report yesterday by the Transportion and Public Works Ministry (MOPT). Motorists have been forced to use alternative routes such as the Costanera (Coastal) Highway.

Parts of the Inter-American washed away at Kilometer 114, and workers are racing to fill the gap within a week. From Kilometer 60 to 98, workers are also trying clear out the rubble from subsidence. At Kilometer 117 and 120, an entire lane disappeared.

MOPT warned that along the coastal route traffic has slowed significantly, mainly at the rivers.

But at some rivers, the ministry reported progress. Workers dredged up dirt in three rivers linked to Pérez Zeledón – El General, Buena Vista and San Isidro – to slow the flooding in the communities of Hermosa, Rivas, Hollón, and Gravilias, according to a separate bulletin yesterday by the Transportation and Public Works Ministry (MOPT).

MOPT hired a private company, PROCON, to lift a metal bridge that fell into River Buena Vista and to repair another bridge over El General, which commuters use to go from Palmares de Pérez Zeledón to Las Juntas de Pacuar, the ministry said.

The CNE is waiting for full damage reports from each municipality, while the government on Monday estimated the cost in wrecked bridges, homes and roads to exceed $35 million.

The government declared a state of emergency in almost two dozen of the country’s 81 cantons: in the San José province, Acosta, Aserrí, Dota, León Cortés, Pérez Zeledón and Puriscal; in Guanacaste, Bagaces, Cañas, Carrillo, Hojancha, Nicoya, Nandayure and Santa Cruz; and in Puntarenas, Aguirre, Buenos Aires, Corredores, Garabito, Montes de Oro and Parrita.

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