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Costa Rica calls emergency in Alma aftermath

May 30, 2008

The government declared a state of emergency yesterday in almost two dozen of Costa Rica’s 81 cantons in the wake of last week’s Tropical Storm Alma. The list includes Pérez Zeledón, in the southern reaches of the San José province; Nicoya in the northwest Guanacaste province; Parrita and Puntarenas, in the central Pacific province, Puntarenas.

Yesterday, wreckage continued. River Bebedero overflowed endangering some 40 families in the village of Bagaces, Guanacaste, according to a report by the Red Cross, which said more than 100 of its relief personnel are working to help victims of the storm.

The humanitarian group’s latest communiqué said that flooding has caused at least two people to go missing – one somewhere in the Southern Zone area of Buenos Aires, another at the central Pacific village of Miramar.

Inter-American Highway South, an important route connecting San José to the southern part of the country, remains closed. Yesterday the ministry hadn’t slated a finishing date for clearing up the subsidence on the highway, also known as Ruta 2.

“It seems we fell short in our earlier estimates of the damage” caused by Alma, said Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias, sitting next to his brother, President Oscar Arias, minutes before the president signed an executive decree of emergency.

“The damage is immense,” the presidency minister said, pointing in particular to areas such as Peréz Zeledón, whose population has been cut off by road blockages on one side and collapsed bridges on the other.

“That’s why we’re prepared today to make this declaration of emergency, which will allow the (National Emergency) Commission much more flexibility with the funds needed to repair bridges and roads and everything that has been destroyed by the water.”

Overall, an updated tally of Alma’s wreckage, according to the National Emergency Commission’s count yesterday, includes 1,152 homes, 114 bridges, 117 stretches of road and 22 rural aqueducts. Some 21,000 people have been forced from flooded homes to live in 45 shelters.

Another 55,000 people are being “indirectly affected,” meaning that obstacles like caved-in roads and bridges are stopping them from making their regular commute.

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