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Devastating Landslide in Costa Rica

Due to heavy rains, Costa Rica was hit by a natural disaster in the form of  unprecedented landslides, mudslides and floods simultaneously in Pico Blanco atop the areas of San Antonio de Escazú, and many parts of the country on early morning of Nov. 3, 2010. To say that the tragedy has brought about undue suffering and agony in the country is to say the least, an understatement.

 

Although Costa Rica is not new to natural disasters, this was most heart rending and devastating. According to the Red Cross, UN High Commissions for Refugees (UNHCR) and local media reports, around 4,900 persons were displaced. It also stated that 28 died among which were five children. One person is still missing and those that sustained injuries in the early morning catastrophe was unquantifiable.

 

In the spirit of oneness and zeal to help, there were concerted efforts by the combined teams of local residents, fire-fighters, the National Police, Red Cross and the National Emergency Commission to assist the victims and search for those trapped inside their collapsed homes or submerged beneath the falling rocks and mud from the hillside. However, the search and rescue operation was slightly affected due to warning of more rains in the area.

 

Heavy Toll

The disaster has equally affected various infrastructures and disrupted social services not only in the affected areas, but also in most parts of the country. For the first time within the past seven years, UPeace had to be closed for two days because of the inaccessible road to its location. However, the level of devastation at the university is relatively small compared to other parts of the country. The residents of Ciudad Colón, Aserrí, a mountain town south of San José, and other areas stayed hours without water or electricity. Many parts of the country were equally inaccessible. Due to the mudslides, vehicular and human traffic were also interrupted in other areas than Escazú, making evacuation and healthcare delivery a Herculean task. It was equally reported that the strong rains also impacted on at least over ten highways across the country and collapsed nine bridges, which led to closure of 58 streets for some days in various parts of the country.

 

There is no doubt also, that the disaster took a heavy toll on the socio-economic life of  the average Costa Rican and all those residing in the country at the time. Apart from the loss of precious human lives, houses and other personal losses, so many people were terribly affected one way or the other. There were reported power outages and shortages of water and loss of telephone internet signals in so many parts of the country. Life stood still in some areas because there was no electricity and water for over ten hours. One could not even buy the most common items as the super markets and stores could not operate their cash machines.

 

According to the local National Meteorological Institute (IMN), the downpours that caused the damages in 34 of the country’s 81 cantons were caused by tropical storm ‘Tomás’, which, prior to the disaster concentrated 200 kilometres South-East of Jamaica and was moving toward the North-West and Haiti.

 

Disaster Response

The Costa Rican government further declared a red alert and national emergency all over the country that lasted for five days and also requested assistance from neighbouring countries with aerial efforts to reach out to those cut off by the calamity. Addressing news media, President Laura Chinchilla stated that the country has sufficient funds for such national emergencies such as the landslide and directed the pooling of other government resources to facilitate search and rescue efforts. In addition, she also hinted that the country might approach the Inter-American Development and the World Bank to fund the clean-up and repairs of the wrecked infrastructures in the affected area. However, barely two days later it was apparent that the meagre resources of the country for disaster and emergency were over stretched beyond limits and further assistance seems inevitable.

 

In addition to that, other agencies of the government such as the Ministry of Education have suspended the holding of Social Studies subject examination for the High Schools exit throughout Costa Rica, which was earlier scheduled for the following day. The Executive Council also declared two days of national mourning to venerate the victims of the incidence.

 

Most of the survivors of the incidence were evacuated to makeshift shelters in schools not affected by the calamity. It was reported that emergency trucks are collecting donations and other relief materials for victims of the landslide. It is apparent that they were doing everything they can to assist the landslide victims with basic necessities pending when they are rehabilitated. However, it is not yet clear how long it will take to do so.


Human casualties

Injured

4

Dead

28

Shelters

86 accommodating 4005 refugees

Displaced people

4,897

Directly affected Costa Ricans

35,000

Indirectly affected Costa Ricans

316,000

Material damages

Major powerlines problems

2

Educational centres affected

4

Collapsed bridges

85

Damaged aqueducts

140

Affected roads

439

Affected houses

2,626

Worth of damages

100 millions US $

Sources: CNE, Inside Costa Rica