CUATRO MILLAS, Limón – Rosa Castillo is used to the 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 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 Matina 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 that began Nov. 20 and stretched into December, leaving one man dead and causing an estimated $82 million in damage to infrastructure and agriculture.
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 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 (about $72,000), enough to provide kits containing toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, pots, flashlights, matches, bleach spray, detergent and other necessities to 1,500 families in Limón province.
The small one-story building was packed with women breastfeeding infants, mudsplattered men wearing galoshes, and dozens of children. A woman behind Castillo complained that she didn’t have time to ask to be included in the list because she works all day at a local factory. Castillo’s grandmother started getting worried. “They might bump your name off the list,” she said, encouraging her granddaughter to join the crush of people waiting for the supplies.
Local municipalities along with the National Emergency Commission (CNE) inspect houses to determine who receives aid, according to Milton Chavarri, deputy manager of relief coordination for the Red Cross.
“It’s one of the biggest floods of the past 25 years,” Chavarri said. “Fifteen-hundred kits resolve only 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. The Spanish International Cooperation Agency recently announced a 35,000 euro (about $48,000) donation to help Costa Rica “prevent problems such as dengue, malaria and pests, as well as ensure the quality of drinking water in homes and sanitary infrastructure,” according to a press release (See related story).
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, a CNE deputy manager, said that in 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 locals depend 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 at least 10,000 hectares of plantations were heavily damaged, totaling $30 million in losses.
The Red Cross traveled to Turrialba on Tuesday to deliver supplies to indigenous communities in the region. Chavarri said the supplies include candles and matches, since electricity was slower to return to the area than elsewhere, as well as clothing and food.
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.”