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Red Cross, France bring relief to Costa Rica’s rain-weary Caribbean region

December 12, 2008

CUATRO MILLAS, Costa Rica – Rosa Castillo is used to yearly flooding in her village Cuatro Millas, but this was the first time the water inside her home reached her knees.

Castillo, who is pregnant with twins and has a young son, stayed with her grandmother in their one-story house for a week, fearing that if they left, their house would get looted.

“It wasn´t safe, so I couldn´t leave,” Castillo said while waiting to receive provisions from the Costa Rican Red Cross Thursday in the center of this small village in the canton of Matina, one of the hardest hit by the recent flooding in the Caribbean province of Limón.

Castillo´s was one of 66 families in the area to receive hygiene and kitchen kits provided with funding by the French Embassy through the Red Cross in ongoing efforts to bring relief to the region.

Cuatro Millas is a small community that was hit particularly hard by the rains at the end of November and beginning of December, which left one man dead and caused an estimated $82 million in infrastructural and agricultural damage.

The French ambassador, a National Emergency Commission official, Red Cross representatives and the mayor of Cuatro Millas each made barely-audible short speeches, standing in front of a pile of mismatched, donated clothes. Residents quieted down to hear the French Ambassador, Fabrice Delloye, speak.

“We aren´t here because the press is here,” Delloye said. “We´re here because people need dignity. … Hand in hand, we´ll get through this.”

The onlookers broke into applause.

The French Embassy donated 50,000 euros, enough to give hygiene and cooking kits to 1,500 families in Limón. The kits contain toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, pots, flashlights, matches, bleach spray, detergent and other necessities.

“It´s one of the biggest floods of the past 25 years,” said Milton Chaverri, deputy manager of relief coordination for Costa Rica´s Red Cross. “Fifteen hundred kits only resolve a small part of the problem. It´s not that the government doesn´t want to help, it´s that there´s a serious lack of resources.”

The United States has donated some $50,000 and provided helicopters to help evacuate trapped residents, while Holland is giving money and expertise to help prevent future floods.

Freddy Roman, spokesman for the Costa Rican Red Cross, said that Tico citizens and businesses have donated about 100 tons of clothes and food since relief efforts began.

Walter Fonseca, the National Emergency Commission´s deputy manager of relief efforts, said that in the canton of Matina alone, about 2,000 people were displaced into 25 shelters. Most started returning to their homes last week but often to homes heavily damaged or stripped of necessities.

Fonseca added that about 80 percent of the local population depends on banana plantations for their jobs and that the destruction of many of those farms would lead to unemployment.

The National Banana Corp., an industry organization, reported damage to at least 10,000 hectares of plantations, totaling $30 million in losses.

Emergency officials and Limón residents are grimly facing the rest of the rainy season.

“The rainy season isn´t over yet,” Roman said. “But we hope for the best.”

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