Costa Rica, Panama racing to aid flood victims

November 21, 2008

The Costa Rican government will likely issue a state of emergency decree today in the wake of continuous rain and flooding on the country´s Caribbean side in which at least one person has died and thousands more have been forced from their homes.

In a televised address, President Oscar Arias, preparing to travel to Qatar, said he has instructed acting President Francisco Antonio Pacheco and several high government officials to visit the villages most affected “to evaluate the damage and to sign an emergency decree, mobilizing all the institutions to contribute resources to attend to the victims.”

More than 5,300 people have been moved to 73 shelters in towns stretching from the north-central canton of Sarapiquí to Talamanca and Matina, both in the Caribbean province of Limón, according to CNE press release.

A man died Monday from electrocution caused by the flooding in his home in the Caribbean slope town of Siquirres, the Red Cross said.

“Thousands of Costa Ricans have had to evacuate their homes empty handed and only with the clothes they have on. Hundreds of families are still cut off, and our authorities have not been able to reach them to bring them assistance. Whole towns are sleeping in shelters, wondering what will become of their homes and their belongings. There are banana plantations that have lost everything,” Arias said.

Extensive damage to roads and bridges has isolated entire communities from relief. A bridge on the road to the popular Puerto Viejo beach collapsed, and today workers will build a temporary structure to restore traffic, according to the Public Works and Transport Ministry.

The president called for public cooperation and solidarity. “We cannot stop the rain, but we can help the victims,” he said.

Arias urged citizens to donate cans of food and clothing to their nearest Red Cross office.

The U.S. Southern Command yesterday flew helicopters down to Costa Rica´s Limón Airport yesterday afternoon to give assistance to Panama, where airports are flooded by continuous rains, the U.S. Embassy in San José said.

At first the embassy was not certain how many landed, but four helicopters were to be sent, according to CNE.

In the western Panamanian provinces of Chiriqí and Bocas del Toro, at least seven people have died, another 7,700 have been forced from their homes and many roads and bridges have been damaged, according to the news agency EFE.

The U.S. Embassy said it is requesting further humanitarian support for Costa Rica.

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