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Efforts Shift From Rescue to Reconstruction

January 23, 2009

Government officials are looking for temporary housing for an estimated 200 families left homeless following the devastating Jan 8 earthquake.

Just over two weeks since the quake struck the foothills of the Cordillera Volcánica Central Mountain Range, about 30 kilometers northwest of the capital, more than 1,700 people are sleeping in shelters and camps as the government moves from search and rescue to reconstruction.

The National Emergency Commission (CNE) reported 23 people have died as a result of the quake, while seven are missing and presumed dead. Rescue efforts were temporarily called off last weekend because of fears that continued rain and smaller tremors could trigger further landslides, putting rescuers at risk.

A landslide late this week washed away a provisional metal bridge that was the only access to the community of Cinchona, one of the worst hit by the quake.

Cinchona, population 500, is located nearly above the epicenter, and has been declared a loss. Houses that didn’t collapse are situated on earth too unstable to be habitable.

CNE announced Wednesday that a study of the area closest to the epicenter found the ground was unsuitable in many communities to try to rebuild or to allow people to return.

The CNE also said officials would have to go house by house in the villages of Fraijanes, Los Cartagos, Poás and others to evaluate whether the ground there could support “human activities.”

The government is now searching for options for those families that no longer have homes to return to.

Currently, evacuees are being housed in 19 shelters. Some of these include tent camps where some people are sleeping under improvised shelters made out of wooden stakes and plastic tarps.

“In three weeks we should have everybody living in tents duly relocated in camps, in three or four areas with all the respective services,” promised Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias.

Public Health Minister María Luisa Avila said she plans to move all the evacuees to two large camps, in Poasito and Fraijanes, to temporary homes to await permanent housing. The minister estimated that the camps will need 250 temporary houses.

The non-profit organization Un Techo Para Mi País (A Roof for my Country), a volunteer group that builds simple wooden houses for impoverished communities, has partnered with the Public Health Ministry to build as many as 200 temporary homes.

The United Nations Habitat Settlement Program (UN-HABITAT) and the National Training Institute (INA) will also build houses, Avila said.

Coca Cola’s Costa Rican subsidiary has already donated money to build 20 temporary homes, and Kraft has paid for 25.

Un Techo Para Mi País is looking for more businesses to donate and volunteers to help build. It can be reached at 2234-6471 or www.untechoparamipais.or.cr.

Officials are also trying to whittle down the number of families that will need these temporary shelters by searching for undamaged homes in the area that can be rented, and calling on people who have an extra home or cabin to donate. For more information, call 2202-7853 or 2202-7837.

Costa Rica has received at least ¢364 million (more than $660,000) in international aid from the United States, China, Spain and the World Bank. The money wire service Western Union donated $50,000 and opened an account for people in the United States to donate money.

Costa Rican lawmakers also approved a $65 million credit line from the World Bank to deal with natural disasters in general.

 

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