San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Bailey bridge at Costa Rica's La Paz Waterfall destroyed by massive river surge

Just a month shy of the 10-year anniversary of the collapse of a historic wooden bridge at the foot of La Paz Waterfall, heavy rains and a flash flood have obliterated a temporary Bailey bridge put in place on the highway, located five kilometers north of Vara Blanca, in Alajuela. 

“The bridge doesn’t exist anymore,” a dispatcher for Costa Rica’s Red Cross told The Tico Times.

Crews from the Red Cross, the National Emergency Commission (CNE) and the Public Security Ministry were on the scene in the early evening Monday, shortly after the bridge washed away. No injuries were initially reported, although local residents were shaken by an intense storm that brought heavy rains, strong winds and flash-flooding to the area. Several area houses were flooded, a CNE spokesman said.

Initial reports indicated that up to 100 liters of rain per square meter fell in less than six hours at La Paz Waterfall.

“We’re facing a little bit of chaos right now,” said Cristian Pérez, an employee at La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge, a popular tourist destination next to the washed out bridge and not far from Poás Volcano.

“It hasn’t stopped raining, the winds are incredibly strong, and several houses are flooded. The river was up to five times its normal level,” he added. 

According to Ronald González, a Red Cross administrator from San Miguel de Sarapiquí, rocks, tree limbs and other debris factored into the bridge’s destruction. The river surge dissipated further downstream, avoiding damage to other bridges in the area, he added.

Areas west and southwest of La Paz Waterfall also experienced heavy rainfall, flooding and landslides, including in Poasito and San Rafael de Poás, on the road to Poás Volcano, where several people were temporarily trapped in an ATM room at a local restaurant.

At 7:40 p.m. on Monday night, Poás firefighters said at least 75 people were being evacuated from their homes. A temporary shelter was set up at Poasito School.

Heavy rains also caused flooding in other parts of Costa Rica, including Cartago, east of the capital, and Santa María de Dota, a coffee town in Los Santos region south of San José, where a bridge over the Río Blanco also collapsed.

On Oct. 17, 2003, a 65-year-old wooden bridge over the river at La Paz Waterfall collapsed under the weight of a poultry truck. Officials replaced the historic bridge with a Bailey bridge – one of several in Costa Rica that are designed as temporary structures but often left in place indefinitely. 

In addition to tourism, the road also is used for commercial traffic and as an alternate route when landslides close the Zurquí section of the Braulio Carrillo Highway connecting San José to the Caribbean province of Limón.

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La Paz Bridge 2003

On Oct. 17, 2003, a 65-year-old wooden bridge at La Paz Waterfall collapsed under the weight of a poultry truck and was replaced by a “temporary” Bailey bridge. That Bailey bridge was washed away on Monday.

Julio Laínez/The Tico Times

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