A deadly landslide early Thursday morning at Pico Blanco above San Antonio de Escazú, a mountainside suburb west of San José, claimed at least 20 lives, and at press time on Thursday police said that at least 10 people were still missing.
Rescue crews from the National Police, The Costa Rican Red Cross and the National Emergency Commission (CNE), supported by teams of local residents and firefighters, are working to locate the remaining landslide victims. Emergency officials said they are likely buried beneath rock and mud or trapped inside their collapsed homes.
On Thursday afternoon, crews suspended the search due to warnings of more rain. They expect to resume Friday.
On Thursday morning, there was no tally of destroyed homes.
Early Thursday morning, Costa Rica’s central government decreed a red alert – the highest of the country’s three alert levels – for the whole country and declared a national emergency.
Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla said on Thursday that the country’s national emergency fund has “sufficient funds for now” for immediate response to the disaster. The government is pooling resources available from public institutions to aid in rescue and supply efforts.
Chinchilla said that Costa Rica is requesting “cooperation from ally countries” to aid in relief efforts, especially with aerial assistance. She said that Cost Rica will likely seek aid from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank to help clean up the aftermath and assist with repairs to infrastructure.
So far, the cost of damage from the rain has not been calculated.
Residents of San Antonio reported various landslides throughout the night. According to emergency crews, the first landslide occurred at around 12:30 a.m. on Thursday.
In a press conference, Chinchilla said that the environs of Pico Blanco “have been considered risky zones and highly vulnerable to disaster for a long time.”
The Ministry of Education suspended the Social Studies high school exit exam for the entire country. The exam was slated for Friday.
The Ministry also suspended classes for the whole country except along the Caribbean, the northern zone and in the northern parts of Guanacaste, northwest of San José.
Costa Rica’s executive branch declared Friday and Saturday as days of national mourning in light of the natural disaster.
Emergency trucks are collecting donations in Escazú – rice, beans, canned food, mattresses, sheets and blankets and hygiene products – for victims of the landslides (For other ways to help, see box).
The fatal landslide was caused by torrential rains that hammered the country on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
According to the National Meteorological Institute (IMN), 161 millimeters of rain fell on Guachipelín de Escazú on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Guachipelín is the closest IMN measuring station to San Antonio.
The downpours caused damages in 34 of the country’s 81 cantons and forced at least 1,400 people to evacuate their homes. The rains are the result of Tropical storm Tomás, which, on Thursday, was centered roughly 150 miles southeast of Jamaica and was moving toward the north-northwest.
The IMN forecasts that the storm will cause moderate to strong rains across the country through Friday.
The hospital in Quepos, on the Central Pacific Coast, is inaccessible by land due to flooding and landslides and is experiencing problems with its water supply. On Thursday, officials from the Costa Rican Social Security System (Caja) sent personnel to Quepos to assist with medical needs.
The National Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) said that the landslides and torrents have damaged tubing and supply systems across the country, leaving nearly 700,000 people without clean drinking water. Crews from AyA are working to reestablish water service in affected communities.
Meanwhile, the agency is circulating cistern trucks in affected areas, mainly in the Central Valley and along the central Pacific coast.
Residents of Aserrí, a mountain town south of San José, told the Tico Times that they have no running water and that many homes are full of mud and floodwater.
Along the Central Pacific coast, 500 people have been moved to temporary shelters and collapsed bridges have stranded several communities.
Televised news reports on Thursday showed waters rushing down the streets of Parrita, a town on the Central Pacific coast, and pouring into homes. Residents waded through floodwaters to higher ground, carrying family members and pets.
In Santa Cruz de Guanacaste, northwest of San José, 150 people have been evacuated from their homes and are in temporary shelters after the downpours flooded families out of their homes, according to the CNE.
The strong rains also impacted at least 11 highways across the country and collapsed nine bridges.
Heading north from San José toward Guanacaste, the Inter-American highway is closed at kilometer 85 because of a landslide. The southern portion of the Inter-American Highway is also closed, due to landslides at kilometer 29, outside Cartago, and in the southern zone at kilometers 220, 235, 248 and 250 near Buenos Aires, Vergal, Paso Real, Térraba and Palmar Norte.
The Pocares river has flooded the Costanera highway between Parrita and Quepos in the central Pacific region, and only heavy vehicles are allowed to pass. The Costanera highway is also closed at kilometer 172 between Uvita and Palmar Norte in the southern zone.
North of San José, one lane along the General Cañas highway is closed due to a landslide and a bridge has collapsed between Upala and San Rafael in the northern portion of the province of Alajuela.
Six landslides between Acosta and Puriscal, mountain towns southwest of San José, have forced the narrowing of the highway to one lane.
For an updated list of road closures, click here (only in Spanish).