It’s a Disaster!

Last week I wrote about the rain here in Limón province. Well, the statistics are in: November saw an increase in levels from the usual 372 mm (22 inches) for the month to over 780 (47 inches. That’s well over a yard in a month!)–– and those figures were before the end of November. The rain has left people homeless and still it continues. Today it is raining hard and the electricity is gone… again.

The post office in Puerto Viejo was closed all last week and I finally asked the pharmacist across the way when the post mistress was coming back.

“Her house washed away, but I think she is coming back Monday,” he said.

I was in town yesterday and indeed she was back at the job. I asked about her house while she checked my mailbox for a package.

“All my belongings are wet and most of them are ruined from the mud,” she told me, “but my house is still there.”

She is not alone.

According to our English language newspaper, The Tico Times, pending a complete report The National Emergency Commission (CNE) more than 4500 homes and dozens of roads and bridges were destroyed or severely damaged due to high waters and mudslides. The banana companies are declaring 21 million dollars in losses due to flooding, and no telling how much the locals businesses are losing because of the rains. At least one person has died and approximately 5800 people have requested refuge in 84 shelters in the region. Many families were trapped without access to relief efforts.

By Wednesday of last week we were declared a disaster area and President Arias made available 3.8 million dollars for the effort. Emergency operations have worked steadily ever since to reach the indigenous communities in the mountainous terrain of Mt Chirripó that were left isolated and without food or drinking water.

Helicopters from the U.S. Southern Command have been flying over our heads daily taking the needed supplies to people up in the mountains above us as well as into western Panama to our south, where, according to the United Nations, at least eight people have died. The photo I have included is of the town of Sixaola on the Costa Rica/ Panama border and is about ten miles from us.

We had a rainy season like this a couple of years ago. At the end of a three month period it had rained a total of 1375 mm (a cool 7 feet) of rain. By the end of that stint all of our houses were moldy and most women were going slightly crazy from being house-bound, but at least we had houses. I have gathered together clothes and food and dropped it off at a relief checkpoint. As President Arias said, “We may not be able to stop the rain, but we can all help the victims.”

Let’s hope for drier weather in December.

Let it Rain!

All went well on my return flight from Oz… until I arrived in L.A.

In Sydney, I waited endlessly at check-in but wasn’t concerned. Traveling is all about Being In Transit so it really didn’t matter to me if I sat on the plane, sat on a bench, or stood in line. At least in line I gave my derrière a rest. The check-in clerk was polite and asked how things were going. We had a brief chat about Obama and how the election created a sense of hope around the globe.

When we wrapped up he said, “Let’s check your ticket, shall we?” I agreed that that was what I was there for.

“Well,” he said, “it looks as though someone has upgraded your seat assignment. Let’s not look too hard into how that happened, shall we? I’ll just go ahead and check you in.”

My mysterious upgrade landed me in something Qantas calls Premium Economy, which turns out to be the equivalent of USA air carrier’s First Class. It was the luxe treatment: extra room to recline further, a foot rest, WIDE seats, a fluffy pillow, a blanket with a sheet stitched to the backside, decent food served with cutlery and linen napkins. The luxe! I arrived in L.A. 16 hours later, rested and ready for the second half of my journey.
The L.A. airport is a bit like the city itself; on first glance it appears glamorous but the further into the depths one descends the more tawdry it becomes. The bathrooms were–how can I say this?–grungy in a third world kind of way. They did have toilet paper on the rolls, but the whole place appeared to have been trodden down by thousands of human souls doing their business. And even though I washed my hands, I left feeling only slightly dirtier than when I entered. The kind of place where you check your shoes when you leave to make sure you are not trailing a piece of toilet paper behind you down the concourse. L.A.

At my gate (62) I discovered, along with my fellow travelers, that our plane was still in the hanger, having “repairs.” There would be an update in one hour. They would be happy to help with connecting flights but their computers were down so would we please form one line and wait. And, thank you for your patience. The woman in front of me had none, thank you, and badgered and bitched about the delays, went to other gates to demanded seats on flights, returning to bitch more to her husband, who seemed fairly unconcerned. She let all within earshot know that he *had* to be at a board meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, at eight o’clock the next morning. No one seemed impressed.

The agents eventually called those of us with connecting flights to Costa Rica to come to the head of the line. YO! That’s me! Two of us sprinted to the desk and received tickets on the next flight out, allowing us about 40 minutes in Houston to dash to our connecting flight. And, so I made it. Home.

 And now I am stuck here.

Alan met me at the plane and that was grand. Never has a hug felt quite so complete. I always feel connected to Alan whether we are together or apart but I much prefer to be “next.” Next is where I belong. We stayed in San José for a day and met with our lawyer to catch up on the details of our legal situation here. Don’t ask.

We arrived home to discover it had been raining. I don’t mean a shower or a thunderstorm. I mean Rain, with a capital R. All the rivers coming down off the Braulio were swollen and had torn bushes and banks with them as they rushed toward the sea. They ran brown with mud. We bypassed Limón but heard that the storm surge had breached the sea wall, flooding the lower part of the town. Down along the Caribbean there were places where the sea had thrown trash up onto the beach, and in some sections, where the road is close to the sea, it had thrown debris across the road.

 Puerto Viejo looked like a mongrel dog. Wet and bedraggled, the muddy streets bore few signs of tourism. I imagine most of them fled at the first signs of bad weather. There were a few stragglers sitting in the bars, but not many.

It rained all night Friday night. The kind of deafening rain that makes conversation almost impossible. Our porches were soaked and we wrapped up the furniture and pulled in the cushions. Nothing to do but wait it out. The power went out about 7 PM and then was on and off all night. I have to hand it to the guys from the electric company, I.C.E.. They worked their asses off keeping us connected.

The next morning we had the electricity back. That was the good news, the phone was gone. Our potrero was full of water and it was still raining. The water was 50 meters from our house. Our house is raised on meter high posts so we weren’t overly concerned. One of the good things about listening to your neighbors before building in an area you are not native to. We heard it endlessly when we were thinking of building:

Never build your house under a tree. Never build your house next to a river. Never build your house at the bottom of a hill. Always build your house on post, and make it high.

Saturday we heard the bridge at the entrance to Puerto Viejo was washed out and one of the two back roads to Bribri was gone as well. The one left is only suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles. The news today is of extensive flooding across the Caribbean slope. The footage showed people huddled on roofs of houses while they waited to be rescued by boat and taken to shelters. All vehicular traffic has been halted except for emergency use. We are at a stand still.

I am grateful for a solidly built house and a good roof. It is still raining as I write this, but it has subsided to a respectable drizzle. My dear father-in-law––rest his soul––would have called this rain, but he came from North Dakota and didn’t know rain from Rain.

Alan and I are cuddled up in our house, warm and so-far safe. Our phone lines are still out and there is no traffic on the road. We will know when they get the bridge repaired when we start seeing cars pass by. For now, it’s a bit like the “old days” when we went for days and sometimes weeks without light. It’s quiet and peaceful with only the sounds of the jungle and the rain. Like white noise it calms the soul and eases the mind, especially if you are dry.

I will give thanks on Thursday, and give food and clothing when I hear of an effort to do that for the homeless.

(my connection is too slow to post photos right now. Maybe later I’ll post a picture of the Puerto Viejo bridge that went out during the storm.)