At two am on Thursday morning I tried to detect where each of the sounds of rain came from – windows, skylight, roof, river. At about the same time in Los Altos de San Luis a landslide smashed into Shannon Smith and Jorge Hincapie’s home in the early hours of the morning.
They were able to crawl out with their young son Matias. At the same time in Cuajiniquil, the river overflowed. There, everyone’s homes flooded. Frank’s rental house was a meter deep. Many boats filled with water and then smashed to pieces in the current. Sometime that morning, the La Presa bridge in Guacimal washed out. All this I learned from Frank, who was in San José with 31 newly-arrived EAP students.
At 7 am there was 275 mm (almost 11 inches) of water in our rain gauge.
This has been a wet rainy season in Monteverde. Between Monteverde Day (19 April) and the end of September, over two meters of rain had fallen. In September, some intense storms went beyond the capacity of our culverts. Roads turned to streams. The road to Mary Rockwell’s was washed out. People swept water out of their houses and repaired leaks in their roofs.
Nate began to pound Costa Rica on Wednesday 4 October. The local emergency commission was meeting at the muni when I passed by on Wednesday. Most of Costa Rica was on red alert. Thursday schools throughout the country were closed.
Thursday morning, when everything else in the country had been cancelled, I had a meeting at the dairy plant with the head of sustainability at Sigma Alimentos. He had flown in from Mexico to talk about how they can engage in CORCLIMA’s efforts to locally mitigate climate change. It had taken him 8 hours to get here from San Jose.
Thursday, we hunkered down in our homes, texting to check in on each other. Electricity went out, then the landlines. As night fell, cellphones went out. Rain continued to fall hard. It was cozy by my wood stove.
Friday morning seemed especially quiet. Monteverde was wrapped in clouds. The rain gauge held 290 mm. Over 11 inches more. Twenty-two inches in two days.
We emerged from our homes and encountered each other on the road, heading to inspect the Quebrada Maquina that had washed away Charlie’s house and left only parts of Rufina’s and Oldemar’s. The cabin where David Rodriguez was living was gone. (All had been evacuated ahead of time.) A chasm separated us from Cerro Plano and Santa Elena.
People picked up supplies at Whole Foods where Pax and Claudia made lists of what people were taking, letting us pay later. Word spread about a community meeting at 11 am. Others said it was at noon.
Water systems were out, but clear water flowed from new springs and in the ditches along the side of the road. An especially pretty spring gushed out from below the path below the Trostles driveway.
Most gathered at eleven at Monteverde Centro. Maricella Solis, logistical whiz, was the member of the local Emergency Commission in charge. Earlier that morning she had shouted with members of the commission on the other side of the Maquina, agreeing to meet again at noon so that we could throw them a message with a rock. At the meeting, we pulled together information and questions for those on the other side. We wrote our names on a list, whether we had enough food for 24 hours, if we urgently needed any medications. A mini-commission of volunteers was formed. We agreed to meet again at 3 pm at the Institute.
Cut off from the outside, we connected with each other on the road, liberated from our screens, talking with neighbors some of us didn’t even know lived here. Eager for news, we shared the bits that we had: a landslide took out 300 meters of road and an electric line in front of the Bello house with the cement animals at the Las Juntas/Tilarán cruce. No roads were open from Santa Elena to the pan am highway. A big landslide on the trocha blocked our way to San Luis. San Luis was also cut off from Santa Elena, many staying in the Centro Comunitario or one of the schools.
At home at 2:40 I heard a landslide. At least I didn’t feel it, not like I had during hurricane Mitch.
The 3 pm meeting was packed and started very promptly. Maricella rushed in with her green hard hat to report that the commission had been attending to other emergencies and so she and Jorge Torres had crossed the quebrada to find them in Santa Elena. She and others shared information: A landslide came down into the Porras house and more might come down. Pass at your own risk. Sign in, if you hadn’t already. ICT is trying to help tourists evacuate. Two Brazilians were especially eager to go. Still no way to go. Drinking water was available at the Bosque and the dairy pant and some farms with their own springs. Use the water from ditches for toilets and bathing. Water is also available from the rainwater catchment tanks at the new teacher house. People without a way to cook at home were invited to use the Institute kitchen or Caburé. Joe had milk for those that needed it. Check on your neighbors. Make sure that animals aren’t stuck in houses. Did anyone need a little solar light (Luci Light)? There is cell signal at Mary Rockwell’s, the trocha and the Campbells. Soon some sections of the roads would not be passable as springs would erupt.
On my way home, I looked for the Friday afternoon scrabble game – which spontaneously happened at Margaret’s with peanut butter sandwiches, candlelight and Luci Lights.
Saturday the sun made us squint, it was bright. Only 4.3 mm in the rain gauge. Phew.
I started looking for the landslide that those of us in the Bajo had heard the day before. I peeked around Frank’s old office toward the 1998 Hurricane Mitch slide. Yikes! There it was. The side of the office opposite the porch was half exposed. Indeed, there were cracks in the soil on the porch side. The office will go any time. Can’t see below the leaves on the upper side. Orange flagging is serving as caution tape.
Hiking toward cell phone signal, I run into Sabine outside the new teacher house. People are crossing the Maquina over a log. She and Tara have walked 17 kms from Los Tornos through slides and mud so that Tara can take the SAT as scheduled. They cannot stay in Sabine’s TreeTop House by the Maquina.
While walking back down from calling Frank from John and Doris Campbell’s, a helicopter circles and lands at the Monteverde History Museum – the Brazilian tourists have paid to leave.
Farther down the road, word is spreading that the police are mandating we all evacuate. I now understand why people would resist evacuation orders.
Three people from the Santa Elena Emergency Commission were at the meeting: Oscar Muñoz (INS), Felipe Quesada (head doctor at the clinic), and a policeman. The meeting started early, as the mandate was provoking much discussion. Names of priority people to evacuate were on the white board… including older people, those with medical needs and those that live near the river. My name was up there. I was assured it was because of the river, not my age.
The three officials explained that they had changed course and decided that evacuation was voluntary, but that if you were to evacuate, “go now”. There were landslides above the Cascada that had caused water to pool and another landslide could come down. Better to go while the sun was out and the bomberos were there to help. Some of the 200 or so people in Monteverde went right home to gather things to go. Most don’t want to go. We have our basic needs: food and water. We agreed to meet at 3 to organize community kitchens and other basic needs for those staying. Medicines were distributed. Lists of needs taken. I give away more Luci Lights. I request a visit from Olman Quesada, architect of our house – and member of the emergency commission most qualified to evaluate the safety of our house.
Susana and Bob come over to pick up the generator and fish from my freezer to boot up the Caburé freezer full of perishables. Olman doesn’t come.
The Saturday afternoon meeting is smaller, and darker. Glenda has brought bread from Stella’s bakery for people to eat. Sarah Juliusson brought food as well. We take stock of who is here by neighborhood, who has left, who has food. We are concerned about security. A few suspicious people from “the other side” have been snooping around empty houses. The road is now impassable below Howard’s driveway. Only walking is possible across the bridge over the Cuecha. People volunteer to work on roads, water. Requests are put in for food for animals, especially cows. Joe says he will be giving away good milk for people, spoiled for animals. I reiterate my request for a visit from Olman.
We disperse to our homes. At 7 pm, I struggle to stay awake by looking at photo albums so that I won’t wake up in the middle of the night.
Sunday morning was partly cloudy. My cell phone had signal. I paid my cell phone bill which would have expired that day.
Thanks to neighbors who encouraged him, Olman arrived and we traipsed on the hillside below the house. We saw new landslides on the office side, but nothing problematic below the house. He said if it were his house, he would stay…. but if it starts to rain a lot, perhaps sleep somewhere else. Gratefully, I have many generous offers of places to go to choose from.
Carol Evans called as Olman and I were in the woods. “Electricity was back in San Luis! The road was open to Puntarenas! The trocha was still blocked. All the rumors about people dying in San Luis were false. All are well. Shannon’s solar panels are working… lights are on there.” …. I said “No, the solar panels are not working!!! Turn off the switch at the meter!” But indeed, we would all be better off with solar power with batteries.
People gathered at the meetinghouse for singing and meeting for worship. “Life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations…. How can I keep from singing?” No visitors. Lucky advised us on how to use the minimum amount of water to effectively flush our toilets. Teen meeting made cards for how to give to the International Red Cross for relief to Costa Rica. Sue Gabrielson, the school director, asked people to seek for financial support for the school as this storm is hitting school families hard. There would be vacation camp for any kids in the community at the school from 9-12. A break for parents. Tim Lietzke congratulated us on already meeting our goal of cutting the number of internal combustion vehicles in half. I announced that the definition of yoga is finding the calm within the storm and that all are welcome at practice. Many wrote notes on appeal letters.
Sunday’s community meeting was more relaxed and we had only one. A team of Red Cross people were coming to evaluate the risks and needs on Monday. Electricity came on as we met. No one needed a community kitchen yet. Animal food had been delivered by pulley. Cross on the lower trail below Elieth’s and Humberto’s at your own risk. Work was happening on the water lines. Jose Luis reported that there was discussion of fixing the Maquina road in the next few days by either putting the culverts back in place and filling with rock or maybe with a Bailey bridge. Either would be a temporary solution. Susana emphasized that this was climate change and urged us all to follow up on what we had learned at Monica Araya’s talk by getting our legislators to exonerate taxes on electric vehicles. (You can watch Monica’s Monteverde talk on CORCLIMA Moneverde’s Facebook page and google her Ted talk, too.) I explained that Monica had arranged for Mitsubishi to bring up a plug-in Outlander for us to test drive on Monday, but I didn’t think they would make it. Laughter
We feel very, very fortunate. No one in our isolated community has been hurt. We are comfortable and united. We have enjoyed the time without being glued to our screens enjoying each other’s company. Others in Central America have not been so lucky.
Most, but not all, now have water, electricity, landlines, internet. We can wash our hair and our clothes. Not worry about more food going bad. Not worry about our families elsewhere worrying about us.
A helicopter is just leaving now. Soon I will go to the meetinghouse to teach my yoga class and then go to the afternoon community meeting.
This has been a reset. As the new normal evolves, certain things have not changed: the beauty of the natural world around us, the warmth and unity of our community.
9 October 2017