This past Thursday, Costa Rica and Nicaragua were hit by Tropical Storm Otto.
The storm made landfall on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast at 1pm on Thanksgiving Day as a Category 2 hurricane but quickly lost strength and was downgraded to a tropical storm. According to the US National Hurricane Center, at it’s strongest, Otto had winds of up to 110mph.
While the central and southern regions of Costa Rica were not terribly affected by the storm (except for excessive rain and flooding in some areas), the northern region has been severely damaged.
**Above are photos from a fellow volunteer’s site in the south. The bridge she needs to cross to leave her community was completely flooded.
At least nine people in Costa Rica have been killed by the storm and many communities in northern Costa Rica, especially places with steep terrain like Upala and Bagaces, were hit hard from the storm’s heavy rain and winds.
On the news last night, one woman in Upala showed the devastating damage of her house, including a water line inside her kitchen that reached 6 ft. high off the ground. Everything she owned – her furniture, electronics, clothes – her entire home, was destroyed.
Over 6,000 people from these communities have been forced into shelters. Homes, streets, bridges, and buildings have been completely wiped away.
According to BBC.com, Costa Rica had not been directly hit by a hurricane since records began in 1851. Although we are technically still in hurricane season (it ends November 30), it was a very unexpected storm for the country.
Before the storm hit on Thursday afternoon, all Peace Corps volunteers in the northern region where evacuated to a central hotel in San Jose. Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, most of the volunteers were already in San Jose celebrating the holiday with local friends and family.
While all Peace Corps volunteers were safely evacuated to San Jose, many have lost their homes and belongings and have had host friends and family deeply impacted by the storm. It is still unclear whether all of them will be able to return to their communities to continue with their service.
As a PCV, experiencing a natural disaster in your host country can be painful and difficult. You’re forced to leave behind the community and the home you’ve created for yourself while the people, friends and family you’ve come to love stay behind to endure the storm. But, like our Director says below, this is a time for us (all of us) to find a sense of solidarity and strengthen our commitments to serving and helping others.
Below are a few words from our Peace Corps Costa Rica Country Director Anne Braghetta that I think sum up the strength and energy of Peace Corps Costa Rica during this difficult time. If you’re interested in making a donation to the clean up efforts, please follow the link below the picture.
“Thanksgiving Day took on new meaning for Peace Corps Volunteers as we gathered around tables of staff and Embassy personnel to unite in gratitude and to await news of the potential impact of Hurricane Otto on our Costa Rican friends and neighbors. Ultimately the storm hit hardest in the northern regions of the country and in southern Nicaragua. While we have many reasons to count our blessings, as Peace Corps we also feel a great solidarity with these vulnerable communities and re-commit ourselves to service in the interest of others. For those who would like to be involved in some way in clean up efforts, our PCCR staff are heading up some tangible needs collection via Cruz Roja. The article below has info on how financial contributions can make a difference.”
For more information and photos: