On Thuersday 24th of November Costa Rica and Nicaragua were hit by a Hurricane. Hurricane Otto prove impossible to predict changing paths and behavior several times. Confusing everyone and having the emergency teams deployed in the “red areas” at the edge of their sits. In the afternoon, the speed of the winds and the fact that Hurricane Otto had been in land for several hours made many people think that the forecast was positive. And the damaged cause by Otto was to be nothing more than some trees knocked down and some roads close. However during the night and keeping his unpredictability Otto was getting stronger by feeding of the lake of Nicaragua. Around 10:00pm when the Central Valley (Costa Rica’s most populated area) was sleeping comfortably, Upala and other rural places were been devastated by a renewed Hurricane Otto.
In Upala thousands of people lost everything they had. All their possessions, their work and even their plans for the future. Everything was carried and away by the Zapote River after a sudden flood ran over their houses… While the decease toll is not big some among the missing or dead are children. Given this already tragic story an even saddest memory.
The central government did a good job preparing for any eventuality. Providing information and deploying emergency teams all over the country. Thousands were evacuated and passed the night is shelters. Sadly this was not the case for the people of Upala and surroundings. Because they weren’t expected to be hit by the Hurricane. At 9:30 pm and after an entire day of extremely heavy rain. Rio Zapote ran over hundreds of houses. Absolutely destroying some and flooding others. The flood stop at 5;00am in the morning.
On Friday morning the news were impossible to believe Costa Rica was hit directly by a Hurricane for the first time in history. Some news teams were reporting live from Upala showing the rest of the country the devastation leaved by Otto.
Immediately the Red Cross open bank accounts for donations, the TV channels and radio stations offered their facilities to recollect food, and clothes. Supermarkets and food industries in Costa Rica donated tons of goods. And the rest of the citizens rush to the stores to buy food to donate. At noon the amount of food and other goods recollected was outstanding. And Costa Rica kept of given and donating. Many families change what they have saved for the black Friday into donations for the refuges.
The stories began to reach the rest of the country. A family that started years ago selling food and the front door of the Hospital lost everything they had in their still new store. An entire family consisting in Father, mother and son were missing, later to be found dead together. A 13 year old was found dead several kilometers down from where he lived. And and 8th month old baby was snatch from her mother’s arms by the flood and the entire town was looking for him. Sadly he was found death a day later. Crops that were ready to harvest that Friday were completely lost, and the seeds for the next plantation ruined. And there were cries of people telling the rest of us. That all their belongings were lost, useless or buried under centimeters of mud.
On Sunday we were there.
Costa Rica is a bless land. Seldom hit from hurricanes and other natural disasters. For me this was the first crisis on which my condition allow me to actively help. On Friday we donated food to the red cross. However I felt the need to involve myself more. Paradise Products opened a Donation post to received donations for the exterior. Since so far the bank accounts provided by the Red Cross where only for donations inside Costa Rica. Thank you very much to those who donated. You will be receiving the receipt soon.
On Saturday I found out that some people were planning a trip to visit and help cleaning houses in Upala. On Saturday night in Heredia we packed more than 35 bags of food. Each bag with 4 kilos of rice, 3 kilos of beans, 2 cans of tuna and or sardines, 2 bags of pasta, coffee, olive oil for cooking and tooth brushes on each bag. Some bags also contained milk, juices, different kinds of beans, and other articles.
We part at 3:00 am in the Sunday morning. We arrived to Upala at 6:20 am. The images provoke goosebumps. Outside every house was an ever growing pile of belongings. Kitchens, fridges, toys and furniture. Everything they ever had in this already humble town was now useless and covered in mud.
We stop in the house of “La Macha” friend and co-worker of one of the organizers. We give her a bag provisions. And started cleaning the house next to her. Because there was a car with a water pump, pumping water into the house. Also the people in that house where responsible for the survival of 20 people. By giving them shelter in the second floor of their house. We clean that house for more than 2 hours until the car ran out of water. We kept sweeping a little bit more while some of the people in the group move to the car to start giving provisions and clothes to the people nearby.
A little bit latter a police convoy with 4 cars full of supplies arrived to where we were. For our amazement when the people around us were offered provisions they told the policemen that we have already give them some provisions. So please continue and give those supplies to some other family down the road.
At 10:30 am we decided to move to second house in an area around 500 mts south from where we started. To help cleaning and distribute some more bags of food there. We met don Elbert. he was alone in his house. Doing the cleaning by himself. He had sent his 2 daughters and his wife to Alajuela the day before. Here there was no pumping water machine and the mud was more than 10 cm deep in some areas. We started cleaning relentlessly for more than 2 hours. By the time we finish exhausted and paused for lunch and cleaning ourselves although the house was considerably better than when we found it, it was no way near to be clean.
What I saw
The feeling in Upala was surreal as if the please was frozen in time. We arrived at 6:20 am and start working at 6:30 the light of day was dim and it was one of the greyest days I can recall. Even at 6:00 7:00 8:00 in the morning we got the feeling that it was 3:00 pm. We work a lot and make little progress for the amount of effort we put.
Every person there had the same look in the eyes. A estrange mix of confusion, anger, acceptation and resignation. The food and cloth we delivered was accepted but no happily. It was received out of pure necessity not with conviction. We were welcome in every place we arrived. We crack some jokes, and start having good times, living the “pura vida” while surrounding by people. But when we walked away and saw the mud inside the houses, the grey sky, the people walking bare foot and the pile of furniture outside every house. The cruelty of the scene hit everyone back to that weird look in the eyes.
I felt good about been there helping. But every so often the realization of the work and effort putt in sweeping the house and the little progress made struck me as terrible circumstance to live. I realize that eventually the people there will managed to take the river out of their houses. But once that is done they will have to go back and sit alone in the middle of an empty house with nothing more than walls. No chairs, no tables, no fridge, no beds. Nor the sound of their children playing or crying. Nor the steps of their familiars walking to the fridge or the smell of something cooking in the oven.All of that will be their every day experience.
I fear that the help they are receiving while abundant today may dim or not be enough for the months to come. So I am planning visit Upala regularly at least every 2 month to register the progress of their reconstruction and also to meet that town and their people at their best. Happy, bright and full of life as I know they are.
Here I some photos I took in that visit in Upala. My idea was not to portrait the missery but to creat a record to contrast the progress and recovery of the people of Upala. If you are going to see the gallery please do it so with empathy for the people of Upala and surroundings.
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