Rain damage continues but forecast contains some hope

Baily Bridge

A bailey bridge opened up the Interamericana Norte at Cambronero, when workers covered a spot where the road collapsed. However, more rains Sunday caused officials to close the stretch at 2 p.m. And that was not the only problem.

The Cerro Chitaría above Salitral, Santa Ana, produced another large landslide Saturday night, and the continuing rain raises the possibility that more will follow.

President Laura Chinchilla and some of her ministers inspect an area that subsided on the Autopista del Sol. The president made the tour Friday. Photo: Casa Presidencial

There are late reports of a similar slide near Ciudad Colón, and the major highways are again closed, mainly as precautionary measures.

The Quebrada Canoa took the brunt of the rocks, mud and trees from the slide upstream Thursday, and Santa Ana municipal workers were using heavy machinery to keep the stream flowing. Until Saturday nearly 60 persons had been in shelters because their homes were jeopardized by the backed up stream.

Trucks are backed up as they await their turn to cross the temporary bridge installed on the Interamericana. Photo: Loren B. Ford

The debris periodically creates a dam upstream until there is sufficient water to break through. When that happens a wall of water rushes downstream sweeping away all in its path. One bridge was destroyed and another was jammed with debris.

Escazú officials said they had to destroy a bridge over the Río Chiquero in San Antonio de Escazú because it became blocked with debris. The alternative would have been flooding of adjacent properties, they said.

This is the culvert that a resident believes will soon wash out again because the pipe is too short. Photo: Loren B. Ford

Marco Antonio Segura, Escazú mayor, reported Saturday night through the canton’s communication department that dozens of localities had been affected by rising rivers.

These areas included Barrios Hollywood, Carmen, Calle Lajas, the Bigusa sector, Calle Adoquines, Bajo Anonos and Escazú Centro.

Some areas of the Central Valley got a break Sunday when morning skies were sunny. But rain moved in after noon and a drizzle persisted most of the evening. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the Pacific coast, the Central Valley, the mountains of the northern zone and the Caribbean would get the most rain.

Still, a motorist reported no trouble driving from San José to Puerto Viejo Sunday morning. He said that Route 32 through the Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo was not affected over Saturday night. It had been the scene of a massive landslide earlier this year.

The weather institute predicted an increase in winds this week and a reduction in the evening rains in the Central Valley and Guanacaste. The report also said that there might be an increase in precipitation in the Caribbean.

President Laura Chinchilla visited trouble spots Friday.

Highway officials tested the bailey bridge at the Interamericana between San Ramón and Esparza, the section that had been closed to heavy traffic. President Chinchilla’s first visit on the Interamerican Norte was to the highway collapse at Kilometer 84, located on a geologic fault and long a problem due to the highway surface sinking into the unconsolidated and drainage-deficient subgrade, a resident said. From there, the president’s caravan continued to the temporary bailey bridge erected over the new overflow culvert installed to replace the old culvert washed out, along with the overlying highway, the night of Sept. 9, according to the resident, Loren B. Ford.

Ford said he witnessed five large trucks following an escort of two transit police vehicles and followed by a third approaching the temporary bridge. These trucks turned out to be empty according to an officer at Kilometer 84, and the first of a number of trucks allowed to pass over the sunken area to test whether contractors’ maintenance efforts had improved the highway sufficiently to restore truck traffic, he said.

Highway officials decided to open up the route at 6 p.m. Friday, but as that time approached a trucker in a tractor-trailer headed west died of an apparent heart attack, and traffic was halted for hours, Ford said.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the route only would be open during daylight hours. When the highway reopens Monday, the daylight rule probably will continue.

Ford said that his career working closely with road engineers in the U.S. Forest Service told him that the a new culvert at Kilometer 87 was not long enough and that water flowing through it was likely to erode underneath the roadway quickly.

“If this rain continues at its present intensity for any period of time it’s entirely possible that the creek flow will exceed the capacity of the new culvert, which will cause the water to rise over the current fill, possibly washing out the new culvert and maybe even undermining the bailey bridge, which rests at either end on the old highway surface, with no newly established bases that would withstand high water,” Ford said.

The Autopista del Sol also was closed at Atenas Sunday as a precautionary measure. There were no reports of large slides there yet.

The national emergency commission blamed the slide above Salitral on saturated ground, steep slopes and deforestation. There also were homes there and elsewhere constructed without regard to the potential for flooding.

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