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Six months after an earthquake devastated parts of Costa Rica, efforts to rebuild.
TAMBOR, Costa Rica — After pulling into this small town a couple of bus rides northwest of the capital San Jose, it seems like the words are on everyone’s lips. When asked how to find the construction site for their soon-to-be neighbors, locals will practically finish your sentence: “You mean the Habitat for Humanity site? It’s a few hundred meters down the road,” a shopkeeper says.
From the church, walk down the street, turn left at the coffee plantation, onto a dirt road muddied by the onset of rainy season, and you’ll find Habitat volunteers and staff busy at work, lifting sheets of cement and sliding them carefully into building frames. They’re creating homes for about a dozen families desperate for housing. This project is just one of the settlements expected to provide a new start for hundreds of families who were displaced by the Jan. 8 earthquake.
This week marks half a year since the earth shook the provinces Heredia and Alajuela, where Tambor is located, hard enough to topple homes and businesses and crumble roads and bridges, killing as many as 30 people. The quake could be felt in San Jose, too, but nobody in the cramped capital predicted the devastation it caused in the smaller communities closer to the epicenter, about 30 kilometers north near Poas Volcano.
Almost 1,000 families need to be relocated but, six months after from the quake, fewer than 40 have moved into their new homes, according to Housing Minister Clara Zomer. Although projects have been slated for 265 families, Zomer says her office is racing to find homes for the remainder, which hasn’t been easy.
Many residents from some of the hardest-hit towns simply don’t want to leave the area in which their families have lived for generations. But scientists deemed swaths of the earthquake zone uninhabitable. And in some areas, there are zoning laws that prohibit new home construction. Now, Zomer says, the government's Reconstruction Commission is at a crossroads in its efforts to re-house the earthquake victims.
“We’re working together with residents and municipal governments to locate the most adequate places for those families and to see if it’s necessary to change the county zoning law,” Zomer said.
The earthquake caused home damages of nearly $35.8 million, and infrastructure damage of nearly $15 million, according to an assessment released this week by the government's post-earthquake reconstruction commission. And that's not counting the damaged Cariblanco power plant, a loss of $365.5 million. All told, those losses combined with damage to the environment, manufacturing sector, employment and basic services mean the country is looking at a whopping earthquake bill of nearly $502 million.