San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Future uncertain for Turrialba volcano evacuees

The jolts and spews continued at Costa Rica´s Turrialba volcano, about 40 kilometers northeast of San José, as the mountain began to release gas and ash through a new crater that formed at the end of the week.

For several families who were forced to leave their homes, the disruption has followed from their residences along the slope of the grumbling giant to the temporary shelters down the hillside.

As of Friday, officials of the National Emergency Commission (CNE) said the government had ordered evacuations for 40 people, 33 of whom spend their days in the Santa Cruz de Turrialba community center, an old barn with little more than a half-dozen picnic tables inside, and slumber on cots and in sleeping bags in the Santa Cruz church next door. Local volunteers cook three meals everyday for the evacuees. Children play board games and kick soccer balls while parents mull around town talking to neighbors, listening to the radio and waiting for updates about the volcano.

For most of the evacuees, the temporary shelter is the only option.

Greivin Mora, 28, was evacuated from his home in El Retiro on Tuesday. The Costa Rican Red Cross picked up Mora, his two children, two and four, his wife, 22, and his father, 53, in an ambulance and drove them to the Santa Cruz community center.

Mora´s dad moved to El Retiro 13 years ago to live and work on a dairy farm. Mora has no other family to speak of and his wife´s parents were taken to a separate shelter in La Pastora, about a 10-minute drive from Santa Cruz.

“We aren´t really sure where we are going to go,” Mora said. “Right now we are just waiting and praying that everything will work out.”

On Saturday, Costa Rican president Oscar Arias visited the shelter in Santa Cruz and assured the evacuees that more assistance will be on the way shortly.

But for 27-year-old María Sumbrilla, who was evacuated from the town of La Central and is staying with family in La Pastora, more aid isn´t what families need, but access to their homes, she said.

“We left a lot of important things in our home,” she said. “Our clothes, food, animals, its all up there and the National Police won´t let us in. It´s ridiculous. The press show up and they can pass. Ministers and government officials come, and they get access. But the people who have lives up there, they tell us no, you can´t pass.”

Sumbrilla vented her frustrations as a National Police officer kept her fenced out of the La Pastora shelter, where her friends and belongings are, on a chilly and drizzly afternoon while Agriculture Minister Javier Flores toured the facility with the press corp.

In response, Flores told The Tico Times that his ministry will “work with the National Police to make sure people can get what they need.”

After showing signs of activity since May 2007, Turrialba erupted with ash and gas Tuesday in a display not seen since 1866. Scientists say it is not likely to flow lava

See the Jan. 15 print or digital edition of The Tico Times for more on this story.

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