San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Rains Cause Wide Damage

Most parts of Costa Rica this week received a rainfall respite, recording mostly dry conditions.

But the heavy rains and severe flooding that pounded the country last week carved out an ugly and expensive scar and left behind a chaotic mess to clean.

On Thursday last week, President Laura Chinchilla signed an executive decree declaring a national state of emergency as a result of damage caused by intense storms.

The announcement came on the same day that an avalanche at Chitaría hill in Santa Ana, west of San José, damaged or destroyed eight homes and forced dozens of families to evacuate their properties. More than one hectare of earth collapsed in the landslide.

The executive order will allow the state to use up to $19 million in credit from the World Bank to repair roads and highways, infrastructure that the government said will require the most attention.

On Tuesday this week, Chinchilla ex-panded the decree to include the agriculture sector, which was walloped by rainfall last week and recorded significant losses in production of dairy products and vegetables, as well as damage to coffee plants. 

Broken Roads

According to the National Emergency Commission, 95 sections of highway were closed – eight of which are national routes – 20 bridges have been damaged and 21 aqueducts have been affected due to landslides and collapses caused by last week’s torrents. The damage spread across 40 of the country’s 81 cantons, mostly in the Central Valley, north-central Costa Rica and along the Pacific slope.

While most of the highway system has reopened since last week, crews worked on Thursday to finish the installation of two provisional bridges along the 10-month-old highway to the central Pacific port of Caldera. The Public Works and Transport Ministry said the Bailey bridges, which will cross sections of damaged and fallen roadway, will be completed by today and the highway will be open for the weekend.

The only other route that remained closed this week was Route 301, a mountainous gravel road between Acosta and Parrita on the central Pacific slope.

Digging Out

On Monday this week geologists from the CNE visited the Chitaría hill in Santa Ana, where, as of Thursday, 82 people remained in temporary evacuation shelters. The team warned that erosion and landslides will continue to affect homes at the bottom of the Chitaría hill and along the margins of the Pacacua River throughout October.

The CNE asked residents in the area to “pay close attention” to the hills above their homes and prepare for a quick evacuation if necessary. Aid crews have been displaced in the zone and will assist with possible emergencies.

During a flyover on Monday, specialists from the CNE determined that the landslides and erosion will not affect nearby Ciudad Colón.

Santa Ana

Slip Sliding Away: A house in Salitral de Santa Ana, west of San José, takes a hit from last week’s mudslides. Emergency officials have warned that erosion and landslides could continue to affect hillside homes in the area through October. Ronald Reyes / Tico Times

In total, 377 people evacuated their homes last week, forced to reside in shelters or with family members. Some have returned to their houses while 248 people remained in six temporary shelters across the country this week.

Other than the 82 victims in Santa Ana, evacuees are located at shelters in the western San José district of Pavas, as well as San Juan de San Ramón and Atenas, Central Valley towns west of San José.

Agricultural Losses

The Agriculture Ministry (MAG) reported total and partial losses of vegetables on 380 hectares of farmland and a 40 to 60 percent decrease in milk production after last week’s rains flooded fields across the country.

The ministry also reported that 20,000 hectares of coffee plants have been affected by ojo de gallo, a humidity-provoked fungus that eats the leaves of coffee plants.

MAG officials said this week they were evaluating the economic consequences of the losses, and that they will place a figure on the damag by today.

Preliminary estimates indicate that farmers in Zarcero, a canton in north-central Costa Rica, have suffered 500 million ($986,800) in losses.

Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, potatoes and cilantro are among the damaged crops in Zarcero. According to Corporación Hortícola Nacional, a produce distributor, consumers will pay between 25 and 37 percent more in the supermarket for these vegetables during October due to the recent damages.

The government has requested that farmers who have incurred losses due to the weather contact their local Agriculture Ministry office and report their damage.

Financial aid will be determined at a later date, but President Chinchilla said  that, in light of the sector’s inclusion in the emergency decree, the government “will bring attention to the necessities of farmers.”

The rains calmed this week, but meteorologists maintain their forecasts of a rainier and longer-than-average wet season in all parts of the country. The CNE has issued a green alert – the first of the country’s three alert levels – for the entire country for the remainder of the rainy season.

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