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Costa Rica earthquake aftermath: return to normalcy slow and painful

January 29, 2009 | 10:56 am


Tourists have gotten out of Costa Rica safely but residents and business owners are still reeling in the aftermath of the 6.2-magnitude earthquake that shook the Central American nation Jan. 8, killing at least 23 people and destroying more than 400 homes.

Leland Baxter-Neal, a reporter for the English-language Tico Times, wrote a story for the Wednesday edition of the Miami Herald, in which he described the damage and provided a sense of what transpired that day in a country renown for its remarkable biodiversity and natural splendor.

In an email to me he provided the following tidbits:

--About 1,500 people remain in shelters and seven people who remain missing are presumed dead.

--The government is trying to move families from shelters into homes by offering to pay the first three months' rent, plus deposit, as long as rent doesn't exceed $200. "Which isn't much in the city where I live," Baxter-Neal said. "But I guess that might be reasonable in the little villages where they're trying to resettle people."

--A Chilean agency called Un Techo Para Mi Pais, or A Roof for My Country, has begun a campaign to build 200 temporary houses to get people out of shelters, but needs help raising the $1,000 it will cost to build each house.

"I have actually worked with them, and spent a weekend building a house for a family here," said Baxter-Neal, who has launched a website that features news about Costa Rica and its surrounding region. "It's super simple, no plumbing or electricity built in. But the government said it would build all 200 houses in basically two camps where they would provide the basic services like water, electricity, etc."

Mariellos Soto feeds her baby sister, Marjorie, at a temporary camp after being left homeless by the earthquake.

--The town of Cinchona is essentially destroyed, its 500 residents displaced. "A small restaurant was buried in a landslide killing at least 10," Baxter-Neal reported. "I spoke yesterday to a man who pulled his wife and daughter from the wreckage of that restaurant. Miraculously they lived. I also spoke with a young man who lost his wife and their two children. The day he buried them would have been the second birthday of the youngest boy. Awfully traumatic. Not an easy interview to do."

--Poas Volcano, a major tourist attraction, has reopened. The owners of the nearby Peace Lodge and its La Paz Waterfall Gardens hope to reopen the hotel "in a few months."

Meanwhile, there are sporadic small quakes, perhaps aftershocks, and citizens, understandably, remain on edge. Hopefully, tourists will continue to support this astonishingly beautiful paradise and all of its wonderful people.

--Pete Thomas

Photos: Top file photo is by Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times. Bottom photo: Mariellos Soto feeds her baby sister, Marjorie, at a temporary camp after being left homeless by the earthquake. Credit: Kent Gilbert/Associated Press