Small community far away feels wrath of quake

Residents of El Castillo de la Fortuna have great concerns about the state of the road because the cracks will generate small landslides destroying the road when heavy rains come. Photos by Ricardo Villalobos of El Castillo de La Fortuna

While the government is diligently working to restore Guanacaste’s infrastructure to normalcy and to clear key thoroughfares, some rural towns also anxiously await repairs to their only avenues to the outside world.

El Castillo is one such community. On the southwest side of the Arenal volcano, the town is made up of hotels, tour companies and other small tourist industry businesses. The community is some 70 miles (about 112 kilometers) from the epicenter of Wednesday morning’s earthquake.

Initial reports are that several hotels were seriously damaged there. But owners and employees at these hotels said that their homes had been severely damaged while the hotels were fine.

Photos by Ricardo Villalobos of El Castillo de La Fortuna
This structure is ready to collapse

Residents of El Castillo worry that cracks formed in the road to La Fortuna, the town’s lifeline to the outside world, will make the pavement vulnerable to erosion and that they will lose access.

Nico Botefur owns the Essence Arenal, a boutique hostel. When the 7.6 earthquake occurred Wednesday morning, he had gone to take his child to a neighbor’s house for a play date.

“When I came back, I saw the main house was almost collapsed,” he said.

Photos by Ricardo Villalobos of El Castillo de La Fortuna
There appears to be no way to save this structure.

Although most of the hostel was spared, much of which he described as being tents, the main building had significant structural damage and will need to be entirely rebuilt. This main structure was his home.

“We’re dismantling it so we can reuse it, but we’re going to tear it down,” said Botefur.

Agustín Piedra, who manages property for a couple from California, said that his clients had a similar experience. Their hotel, the Nepenthe B&B, had little to no damage but that their house under renovation was destroyed.

“We were almost done when the earthquake happened,” he said. “Some of the columns gave out, some of the walls broke, and there were cracks in some of the walls and the floor because of the earthquake.”

Victor González, who works at the Universidad Nacional’s Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico, said that there are numerous factors that can contribute to why some areas and sometimes buildings within a community are affected by earthquakes differently than others. These issues can range from geography and soil composition to the quality of construction and the materials used.

“The conditions can vary,” he said.

Costa Rica is spotted with places far from the earthquake zone where major damage took place. Meanwhile, communities adjacent to the quake suffered much less damage.

Wednesday’s 7.6 magnitude earthquake triggered landslides that knocked out key routes that government organizations are still clearing. However, it also caused countless cracks in road surfaces.

These cracks can lead to greater problems because they give pathways for rain and runoff water to pass through, gradually widening the crack. If not repaired, segments of the road can eventually become so weak that they wash away in a strong storm.

Not only is this road the route to supplies in La Fortuna, but it also represents the best escape route for El Castillo residents if the nearby volcano were to erupt.

“There’s no other road. There’s no other access or way to go out,” said Botefur. “If the volcano goes off, we can’t even evacuate.”

Thursday, officials from the San Ramón canton, the police in La Fortuna, engineers and officials from the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias held a meeting to assess damages.

However, Reinaldo Carballo, a commission spokesman, said that authorities are still assessing damages and they may release a formal plan of how they will respond to all affected Costa Ricans’ needs Saturday.

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