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Costa Rica earthquake: the heart-wrenching aftermath

January 13, 2009 | 10:24 am

Damaged homes in the Posito community.

It has been five days since a devastating earthquake struck Costa Rica, and there are people outside the country who have yet to make contact with family and friends.

Leland Baxter-Neal, a reporter with Costa Rica's English-language newspaper, the Tico Times, has been reading comments on Outposts and this morning sent me a note that might be of interest to those still trying to locate loved ones, and to those who have developed close relationships with residents of the beautiful Central American nation.

From Leland:

I've been covering this disaster for The Tico Times since it struck last Thursday and was in the area walking through some of the damaged towns (Fraijanes and Poasito) and talking with evacuees and officials at a shelter/tent camp/rescue command post. Perhaps I can help your readers get a better idea of what happened, and what is happening.

First off, to all the readers that are worried about friends and family traveling, studying or living down here in Costa Rica: there is a 99% chance they are fine. If they were in any part of the country except for a small radius near the Poas Volcano, they did not feel much more than a startling shake, if even that.

The only tourist area that was affected was the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and the Peace Lodge Hotel, which are right next to each other. I spoke with the manager of that hotel today who said the worst injury was a woman with a broken ankle. He said there were no deaths at the hotel or in the gardens.

A Costa Rican beach before the quake.

The Tico Times spoke with the U.S. Embassy Monday evening and they had no reports of missing U.S. citizens or the deaths of U.S. citizens. The overwhelming chances are your loved ones are fine, and do not even know you are concerned.

The locals have not been as lucky. The official death toll at last count was 17. Another 20 are missing. There are some truly sad stories, and this nation sees this as a very serious tragedy. The president has declared a national emergency, and a period of national mourning. Festivals have been canceled and flags are flying at half mast.

Rescue teams are digging through landslides as I write this, searching for bodies. Thousands are sleeping in tent camps, schools or churches. Hundreds of houses have been totally destroyed.

In Poasito, several of the houses I visited were total losses. The area is mountainous and steep, and many of the communities are low in valleys or high on bluffs, and the earth is now filled with faults and could come tumbling down disastrously with a much smaller tremor, which are common in this country. Just last night there were two tremors, one measuring 2.8 and the other 4.3, in the affected area. We're unsure still if these have caused further damage.

The government yesterday pegged the economic damage at $100 million, a steep figure for such a tiny country. The infrastructure losses are serious, with bridges and entire stretches of highways gone. One of the country's more important hydroelectric power plants is out of service.

The bright spot, however, has been outpouring of help. Stacks of clothing, food, pet food, medicine and supplies have been piling up at businesses and emergency centers across the country. Costa Ricans pride themselves on their solidarity with the less fortunate, and have proven it in the last several days.

More help is needed, because the recovery is just beginning. I encourage your readers to check our website, www.ticotimes.net for regular news updates and information on how to help.


Leland Baxter-Neal

Photo (top): Damaged homes in the Posito community. Credit: Ronald Reyes. To see more of his earthquake photos check his blog. Photo (inset): A Costa Rican beach before the quake. Credit: Susan Spano / Los Angeles Times