San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Parrita Still Digging Itself Out from Alma

PARRITA – Nearly a month after record floods left this working-class town under four feet of water, many residents are still feeling the effects.

Though most of the small boutiques, hardware stores and food distributors in this central Pacific area have reopened their doors, it’s no longer business as usual. Many are still struggling to clean up. Others feel a new anxiety about their future.

“I would say things are about 60 percent returned,” said Erick Abarca, 28, who, with his brother Diego, owns and operates a small Internet cafe in central Parrita. Their house, a short trip from the cafe over the old bridge, was hit hard by the flood.

“Usually, the water comes up to here,” Erick Abarca said, extending his arm marking a spot about two feet up the wall. “This time the water was up to here,” he said, pushing his arm at least two feet higher.“Double.”

Erik Abarca spent almost two weeks cleaning his house. “I have been doing a lot of mopping and scrubbing, trying to get the dirt and water out.”

He is not alone. On many of the side streets near central Parrita, residents with heavy eyes can still be seen pushing wheelbarrows full of mud and debris.

Still, he pointed out, it isn’t the soaked houses that are the worst problem. “The roads, the sidewalks and the little bridges are really bad.”

Along the highway to Parrita, crescents of sunken or completely missing asphalt force drivers and bicyclists to use extreme caution. Many of the town’s sidewalks are missing large chunks, and the walking bridges that had spanned small streams lie in mangled heaps behind red caution tape.

Cristian Villalobos, a sales and marketing director for Corporación Faro Pacifico S.A., a development company based in Parrita, echoes Erick Abarca’s concerns.

Only last week, he was the first on the scene of a flipped car whose driver lost control after narrowly avoiding a heavily damaged part of the road. “Everyone was all right,” he said. But, it’s clear he thinks drivers, especially those who are unfamiliar with the area, are at risk.

Despite the ongoing problems in Parrita, the residents are happy with the government and volunteer groups that have helped out.

“It was a good response by the government,” said Villalobos. “The National Emergency Commission (CNE) was here with equipment, helping people out of the water and cleaning up the worst of what was left in the roads. The Red Cross was cleaning and cooking meals for people.” In addition, he said, the government is lending cash to families who have lost everything.

While both men agree the town is making progress, they are worried about the long-term effects of the flood on real estate values in the area.

“Many areas where the water had never been before are now filled with water. A lot of land that people thought was safe from the floods is not so safe,” said Diego Abarca.

Set between the two tourism centers of Manuel Antonio and Jacó, Parrita seemed poised for an economic boom. Now, that looks less likely.

“Three months ago, in places like Parrita … and Pueblo Nuevo, someone could offer $100,000 for an 1,100-square-meter piece of land. No one can charge this much after the floods. People will have to invest more money to build walls to protect from the floods. And now there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.”


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