San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Victim's Brother Bears the Weight

The sight of Freddy Meléndez propped up against a steel cross, meters from where his sister died, is a poignant one.

The cross structure supporting Meléndez is, after all, what was used to hold the steel cable that gave way under the weight of the bus and ultimately failed to support his sister as she made her way to work.

To compound the misery, the construction worker from El Barro, a village within the cantón of Turrubares, is forced back to the scene of his 27-year-old sister’s death because it is there that he may be able to find manual labor dismantling the bridge, now that performing his job on the other side of the river is out of the question.

While Meléndez could pay ¢500 ($0.85) for a ride across the river in a motorboat, considering that he would then have to take a taxi the rest of the way to work, his ¢5,000 ($8.50) daily wage would barely be enough to cover his round-trip costs.

“I used to work in construction with my sister’s husband in Orotina, but now the transport costs make it pointless.” Meléndez says. “I used to be able to get to and from work on the bus for just ¢350 ($0.60) each way. I’m hoping I can find work at the bridge, shifting rocks, or doing whatever they need.”

Without the bridge and access to Orotina, Meléndez and the other 1,500 villagers south of the Río Tárcoles are faced with a 60-kilometer trek to Puriscal in order to visit the nearest bank, pharmacy or supermarket.

“I have been relying on friends and family coming up from San José to help me with money,” Meléndez adds. “We are a small community and everyone is pulling together. Everyone has been affected by it.

“Natalia used to live across the road from me and has left three kids. She used to work as a maid in a house in Orotina and was one her way to work when the bridge collapsed. She was airlifted to hospital but didn’t make it. I’m just taking each day one at a time.”

Accompanying Meléndez in the search for work is his friend Eduardo Arias Rojos, who should have been on the bus that fateful day but was told by his employer to take the day off.

“I was building a wall at a house in Orotina but the boss had a doctor’s appointment that morning so he called me and told me not to come in,” Arias recalls. Everyone is rushing around now, trying to get this new bridge up, but it is all a bit late. What has happened has happened.”

“The minister had to go and was right to resign because it was her fault. They did the checks on the bridge and knew it was dangerous but didn’t do anything about it.”

While the future of the two men depends so heavily on the construction of a new bridge, Leonidas Lobos, the entrepreneurial boat owner who has operated his own river crossing service from 5a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day since Oct.20, stands to profit for as long as the opposing banks of the Río Tárcoles remain disconnected.

The former scuba diver from nearby Herradura said, “I am providing a service with my own boat so that people can meet their needs. I help people get across the river so they can get to the doctors, to get fuel, to get their children to school. The number of people I ferry across depends on the day. On busy days, it can be up to 80 people.”

–Sean O’Hare


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