Emergency workers continue to race to the aid of thousands of Costa Ricans forced from flooded homes in the country’s Caribbean region, where the government on Wednesday declared a state of emergency after rains swamped the area.
The Limón province’s November rain level is already at 780 millimeters, more than twice the month’s average of 372 mm, according to Juan Diego Naranjo of the National Meteorological Institute.
Pending a complete damage assessment, the National Emergency Commission (CNE) reported more than 4,500 homes and dozens of bridges and roads have been damaged by flooding and mudslides. Banana plantations face $21 million in losses, the National Banana Corporation said, according to newswire EFE.
At least one person has died and approximately 5,800 people, as of press time, have sought refuge in 84 shelters, though some residents are slowly returning to their neighborhoods to see what remains of their homes and belongings, said Douglas Salgado of the National Emergency Commission’s analysis office.
Many families remained trapped without relief. Emergency operations worked to reach communities by land, water and air to bring food, drinking water and other supplies to victims left isolated. Salgado said indigenous people in the Cordillera de Talamanca region had nearly no way out, or in, as landslides and flooding blocked the way. Residents on Mt. Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest peak, and communities in Tortuguero, on the northern Caribbean coast, have suffered similar fates.
Salgado said communities in the most affected areas, namely the Limón cantons of Talamanca and Matina, have recently grown more densely populated, boosting the number of evacuees.
He said the rains have lasted longer than most in recent history, about 12 days as of yesterday, and their impact has been felt over a week.
The U.S. Southern Command this week flew at least five helicopters down to beef up the region’s response effort. Two choppers went to help flood victims in western Panama, also hit hard by the low-pressure system, leaving at least eight people dead, according to the United Nations.
Francisco Antonio Pacheco, Costa Rica’s acting president while President Oscar Arias is in Asia, on Wednesday signed an emergency decree for Limón that freed up about $3.6 million for the relief effort.
The loan would be paid back in 15 years with 2.76 percent interest.
President Arias, before leaving Wednesday for Qatar, made a televised address urging Costa Ricans to show solidarity with the victims.
“Thousands of Costa Ricans have had to evacuate their homes empty-handed and with only the clothes they have on.
Hundreds of families are still cut off. …
Whole towns are sleeping in shelters, wondering what will become of their homes and their belongings,” Arias said.
“We cannot stop the rain, but we can help the victims,” he said.
How to help
The Red Cross has requested public donations into three different bank accounts: Banco Nacional account number 100100-7, colones only; and Banco de Costa Rica accounts 176003-3 in colones or 204-6 in dollars.