Costa Rica

44 Die In Costa Rica Hurricane

News and Press Release
Originally published
By JUAN ZAMORANO Associated Press Writer

LLANO DE PIEDRA DE TARRAZU, Costa Rica (AP) -- Though the hurricane has headed out into the Pacific, the flooding and mudslides it left behind have claimed at least 44 lives in Costa Rica -- making Cesar the deadliest hurricane to hit here in recent years.

This coffee-growing village was especially hard-hit, with at least 10 people killed. One man lost his wife and four children in the weekend storm. On Thursday, the body of his mother-in-law was pulled from the mud.

In Costa Rica, a nation of 3.5 million the size of West Virginia, the death toll has been climbing steadily since the first reports trickled out Monday from remote rural regions such as this village, 45 miles southwest of the capital, San Jose.

It is expected to rise further. Around 30 people were reported missing Thursday, including at least four aboard an airplane that disappeared while flying a relief mission.

In Llano de Piedra, Rigoberto Calderon, 45, wept as he watched rescuers use picks and shovels to dig into a river of rock and mud. A slide tore apart his wooden house Sunday morning, killing his family.

''I don't know what to do,'' Calderon said. ''I've lost everything. The storm knocked us out.''

Calderon's cousin traveled from New Jersey to watch the search for her 15-year-old brother, who was feared dead.

''I just wanted to see my little brother for the last time,'' Alexandra Calderon said. ''I can't believe what's happened here.''

Born in the Caribbean Sea, Cesar roared through Central America Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the fatalities in Costa Rica, the hurricane is blamed for at least 24 deaths in Colombia, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The hurricane crossed into the Pacific Ocean, where it was renamed Hurricane Douglas. Thursday evening, the U.S. National Weather Service in Miami said Douglas was far southwest of Mexico's Baja California peninsula and moving further out to sea.

Previously, one of the worst hurricanes to hit Costa Rica was Juana, which killed 28 people in 1988.

Though Hurricane Cesar's winds and rain were relatively light, it caused heavy damage because many people here live in frail wood huts. More than 8,000 Costa Ricans have been left homeless.

A Cessna plane ferrying food and supplies to the victims disappeared Thursday over the jungled mountains in the Santa Rosa region, 70 miles southeast of San Jose, the capital.

The Red Cross reported that three passengers and a pilot were aboard; local press reports said there were four passengers.

Damage to buildings, roads and crops of rice, coffee, banana and beans was estimated at nearly $100 million. A hospital in the town Puerto Cortes collapsed, and at least 88 sections of highway were damaged or knocked out.

The people of Llano de Piedra have decided to abandon their town, perhaps for good.

''We're afraid of what might come down from the mountains,'' Guillermo Camacho said. ''Besides, the slides destroyed many acres of coffee trees, and that's the only way we can make a living.''

=A9 Copyright 1996 The Associated Press