Facing $100 million in damage, Costa Rica seeks cash

January 9, 2009

Four days after an earthquake caused an estimated $100 million damage in Costa Rica, President Oscar Arias declared a state of emergency yesterday to speed rescue and recovery efforts.

The decree frees state resources to rebuild houses, roads, schools and farms, and to restore electricity and water supplies in eight cantons in Heredia and Alajuela, north and northwest of San José, respectively. The decree also allows the government to expropriate property in the affected areas without first compensating owners.

Arias also declared Jan. 12-16 a national mourning period, when public festivities are now prohibited and public buildings must lower their flags to half mast.

Engineers are now working to identify houses and areas that are too dangerous for evacuees to return to. Daniel Gallardo, director of the National Emergency Commission (CNE), said about 500 houses and the entire village of Cinchona, near Poás Volcano, are uninhabitable. One priority is to relocate evacuees living in tents on soccer fields before Wednesday, when a cold front could bring rain, Gallardo said.

Arias has asked foreign governments for donations to rebuild schools, houses and roads. The Chinese government yesterday gave Costa Rica a $100,000 check, and the United States has loaned four helicopters and Colombia has provided one chopper for rescue and recovery.

The Finance Ministry is also negotiating grants from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and the Inter-American Development Bank, said Minister Guillermo Zúñiga.

Lawmakers appear likely soon to approve a credit line from the World Bank to deal with natural disasters. The credit, awarded in November, would allow Costa Rica to borrow up to $65 million, to be repaid over 30 years at 2.25 percent interest.

The state of emergency is in effect in Alajuela, Grecia, Poás, Alfaro Ruiz, and Valverde Vega in the province of Alajuela, and Heredia, Barva, Santa Bárbara, Sarapiquí in the province of Heredia. The decree allows local governments and state institutions to donate money to the CNE for disaster relief, without first requesting a budgetary modification from the Comptroller General´s Office.

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