Storm’s death toll sure to climb higher

At least 21 persons are dead as direct results of the heavy rain that hit the country since Monday. The death toll is sure to climb today.

Providing water is not a priority for emergency workers. This scene was Thursday at the Banco Nacional in Aserrí Centro. Photo: A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

The largest loss of life was in Calle Lajas, Barrio El Carmen, San Antonio de Escazú, where part of Pico Blanco gave way after midnight Thursday and dumped tons of rock, dirt and trees on residents as they slept. The national emergency commission said that at least five homes were buried. Emergency workers found 20 bodies, eight women, six men and six children. But more are believed buried. Unofficial estimates range from five to 20 more.

Photo: A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda decreed two days of national mourning starting today. Casa Presidencial said she would visit Escazú starting at 8 a.m. Her first stop is at the Municipalidad building and then to the emergency operations center in Escuela El Carmen in San Antonio de Escazú uphill from Escazú Centro. Then she will visit a local shelter at the Liceo de Escazú.

The emergency commission said that the slide began as a small one some 700 meters above the sleeping victims in the working class neighborhood. Rescue workers said that the hillsides have about a 45-degree slope there. The commission attributed the slide to the heavy rains.

This is the washout on the Costanera Sur just north of Ojochal at Cinco Ventanas Road. Photo: Bob Milstead

1st death is believed to be that of a motorist in San Marcos de Tarrazú, who was swept away at a river crossing. Two companions also were carried away and are missing, said the Cruz Roja..

The emergency commission reported that there are 27 shelters operating throughout the country with about 1,394 residents. Principal shelters are in Atenas, Naranjo, Bagaces, Nicoya, Santa Cruz, Quepos, Parrita, Osa, Alajueilita, Aserrí, Desamparados, Dota, Escazú and León Cortés.

At least nine bridges have been damaged, including the Turrubares bridge over the Río Grande de Tárcoles, which was destroyed by a 45-foot wall of water. Some homes nearby also suffered damage. Also damaged was a petroleum pipeline there that is being repaired, said the emergency commission.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that 58 stretches of road were damaged, and 38 were in critical shape. That just includes the national roads. Many canton and local roads were destroyed, too.

Water to the metropolitan area was being affected by damage to a major supply line at Puente de Mulas. The Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados was supplying trucked water to Aserrí and Parrita on the Central Pacific Coast.

Aserrí is just a few miles south from and higher than San Rafael Arriba de Desamparados. It suffered a major slide that cut three main highways at Lourdes, a few miles north of Aserrí. There also was damage in Barrio Cinco Esquinas and La Carreta. Some homes including at least one new one were filled with mud and rocks, according to a reporter on the scene.

The Cruz Roja said it had 500 emergency workers on duty with 81 vehicles and that it directed evacuations in Santa Cruz, Bagaces, Cartago, Zona Sur, Escazú, Zona de los Santos, Aserrí and Acosta.

The organization said there were 100 persons in three shelters in Río Seco, Paraíso y Los Pargos, all Santa Cruz. Some 45 persons were in shelters in Bagaces

The organization also reported slides in La Chinchilla and Santa María de Dota and said two person were missing in Finca Pipasa in Herradurra on the Central Pacific coast and two more were missing in Parrita.

Flooding in Parrita that started Monday continued. Many residents on the central Pacific coast were walking around in waist-high water.

A reader, Bob Milstead, said a neighbor, identified as John Heim in Tres Rios de Osa near Coronado on the central Pacific coast, kept track of the rainfall. Milstead reported that Hein logged 32.7 inches through 6 a.m. Thursday. Monday saw 7.3 inches. There were 15.6 inches on Tuesday, and Wednesday’s reading was 9.8 inches. The readerings were reported to be from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m., so the rain after 6 a.m. Thursday is not counted in that total.

The most damaging rain of the year was caused by a fusion of a low pressure area near Panamá and Tropical Storm Tomas that was in the Caribbean. Tomas has executed the expected turn to the north and now threatens Haiti. However, the Instituto Meteorológical Nacional said that the effects of the weather system would last through today. However, there was little rain in the metro area after 9 p.m.

Most of the influence from the weather system will continue to be in the Central Valley and the Pacific coast, the weather institute said.

The approaching storm may be the third humanitarian crisis that Haiti faces this year, coming amid ongoing efforts to assist up to a million people left homeless by the earthquake that devastated the country in January, and a cholera outbreak that erupted last month, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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