Floods in the border region between Costa Rica and Panama

Published: 14 January 2005 0:00 CET

The border regions of Costa Rica and Panama have been hit by floods leaving three people dead, seven missing and a further 11,000 evacuated. The floods, caused by the heavy storms during the last two days, hit the North and Caribbean zones of Costa Rica and the Panama provinces of Bocas del Toro and Veraguas.

The Costa Rican and Panama Red Cross societies have mobilized specialist personnel and equipment to the affected areas in order to evaluate the damage and the needs of the flooded communities, and to monitor the situation.

Miguel Jaen, an operations official from the Panama Red Cross, reports that more than 120 volunteers have been involved in the search, rescue and evacuation operations, which have been carried out by the Red Cross, with the support of the local Red Cross branches in Bocas del Toro, Chiriquí, Puerto Armuelles, Los Santos and Chorrera.

In Costa Rica, 60 temporary shelters have been set up for more than 6,000 affected people. Red Cross volunteers have moved evacuated people to these shelters and delivered basic supplies. Volunteer staff from across the country are supporting for the Heredia and Limón branches, said Noemy Coto, Costa Rican Red Cross information officer.

Similarly, several schools and church buildings are being used as temporary shelters in Panama. Hundreds of people had to be rescued from trees and roofs where they had climbed to escape the floodwater.

Miguel Carmona Jiménez, President of the Costa Rican Red Cross, said that “the alert will be kept, especially because meteorological forecasts indicate that the rains will continue until January 12”.

According to Red Cross officials, the main problem is reaching communities where the volume of river water is placing the first aid teams and their operations at risk. Roads and bridges in the northern side of the country have also suffered major damage.

In Panama, local authorities said that "this has been the worst flooding in the province of Bocas del Toro since 1970". Losses to the region's banana and tourist industries total $7 million and will need at least a further three months to recover, experts believe. Almost 80% of the five thousand banana hectares have been lost.

A "Red Alert" has been declared by the governments of the two Central American countries, which continue their coordinated activities with the Red Cross and other emergency relief agencies to assist those communities affected by the floods.

According to the Meteorological Institute of Costa Rica, an approximate of 350ml of water per square meter fell in the last 24 hours, which is the major cause of the river overflows in both countries.