Southern zone still cut off as are many communities

Reeling from what President Laura Chinchilla calls the worst natural disaster in 14 years, the country finds itself today with major highways out of service, towns cut off and perhaps as many as 3,000 persons homeless.

Crus Roja workers were among those collecting and distributing water and other supplies. Photo: Cruz Roja

Ms. Chinchilla vowed in a television speech that the No. 1 priority would be to save lives. The second priority is to get food and necessities to those who are stranded.

Among those location is the tourist town of Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula, Both routes to it and nearby Ostional cannot be traveled, and residents are keeping track of their water and food.

Even Costa Ricans who are not cut off might have problems with water. Several major lines have been knocked out and some 12 water plants operated by the Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados has damage in one form or another.

Ciudad Colón and Alajuelita are among the locations having water problems because of supply issues.

Both the Interamericana Sur and the Costanera Sur suffered damage that prevents vehicular travel. Guatemala, Colombia and Panamá are providing aid. A C-130 transport plane from Colombia carried 16,300 liters of water to Liberia Saturday. Other flights went south.

The security ministry’s Caribou aircraft brought 700 meals to Nosara and Ostional. A helicopter from Panamá also brought food there. Other food flights went to Pérez Zeledón and Ciudad Cortés.

Acosta in the hills above San José also is cut off and receiving emergency helicopter deliveries. The national emergency commission estimated that 12,000 families remain isolated by bad roads or flooding. Emergency crews were able to reach 19 formerly isolated communities Sunday.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that 60 crews were at work clearing highways.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said less than 1,000 customers remain without power. Service has been restored to nearly 1,500.

Some 59 public shelters still are in operation with perhaps 3,750 persons staying there.

As expected Ms. Chinchilla issued a decree of national emergency which allows faster use of public money to help storm victims. She put Vice President Luis Liberman in charge of all the rescue and relief efforts.

The former Tropical Storm Tomas that helped provide so much devastation to Costa Rica is now well north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Maximum sustained winds are 60 mph or 95 kph, and the storm center is expected to turn east and head out to the north Atlantic.

The largest single tragedy was at San Antonio de Escazú where residents died in their sleep early Thursday when a mountainside gave way. Rescue workers found three more bodies there over the weekend, bringing the total to 23, and they suspect they will find the last body today.

There were reports of many more missing, but police and rescue workers managed to locate a number of individuals thought buried. One man believed missing really was at work clearing the debris from the tragedy. In another case, a relative came and helped one family move just hours before the mountainside came down. They lost their home, but there were no deaths or injuries in that family. They were found living with relatives.

The interruption of transportation, the flooding of cropland and other storm impacts will have major economic consequences for the country. At least nine bridges are down or in need of emergency repair. A bridge at Londres over the Río Naranjo on the central Pacific coast is still up but restricted to foot traffic. Residents there blame the flooding on a single culvert that has not been maintained properly.

There probably will be much more finger pointing as residents recover from the brunt of the storm.

Clear weather in much of the country Sunday helped the relief effort.

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