VARA BLANCA, Alajuela – Three days after a strong river surge washed away a Bailey bridge in northern Costa Rica, work to remove debris at La Paz Waterfall in Vara Blanca, Alajuela is still in an early stage.
Transit is still closed between the communities of Poasito and Vara Blanca, in Alajuela and Heredia, and a temporary route built by the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) only allows access for backhoes, dump trucks and excavators currently working just meters from the waterfall. Workers are laying the foundations that will support a third bridge on the site, another Bailey.
Residents in the area must take alternate routes to get to work, school and even to buy supplies, as many small businesses, supermarkets and grocery stores were affected by heavy floods earlier this week. However, access to most tourism businesses in surrounding communities is normal.
MOPT crews also are trying to find remains of the old Bailey bridge that was washed away on Monday to prevent blockage in other parts of the river. As of Wednesday evening retrieval efforts had been unsuccessful, and officials believe the bridge shattered into many smaller pieces that now litter the La Paz riverbed.
A group of geologists from the National Emergency Commission (CNE) along with officials from the local Emergency Committee of Alajuela on Wednesday conducted an on-the-ground inspection of the area around La Paz River.
“We walked about two kilometers from the higher area and down to the river level, where most of the damage occurred. We found fallen trees and landslides at various points, but we did not find any accumulation of materials that could represent a threat for this area,” said Julio Madrigal, a geologist with CNE.
The new Bailey bridge will be ready in about four weeks, the director of emergency response at MOPT, David Meléndez, said on Tuesday, but “it will be in a different position and at a higher elevation than the previous one,” he said.
The bridge is a temporary solution to accommodate traffic through the area, and officials will study options for a new structure, Meléndez added.
Geologists determined that the flow of water during Monday’s flash flood deepened and widened the riverbed.
According to a CNE report on Wednesday, 46 houses were damaged, and four homes in the community of Poasito were completely destroyed.
Some 75 people were taken to Poasito’s public school while CNE staff conducted home inspections. Those families are slowly returning home after receiving the green light from CNE inspectors.
The consequences of the storm for local tourism businesses was moderate, as less visitors travel to the area during rainy season, which in Costa Rica runs from May to November.
Jorge Alvarado, general manager at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, stressed that aside from the destroyed bridge, most tourism businesses in the area are operating normally, and visitors should not be afraid of traveling to destinations in the area.