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  HOME | Central America

The ‘Slow Motion Earthquake’ Disappearing a Costa Rican Town

SAN JOSE – For more than 20 years, Jenny Duarte has been living in the Valladolid neighborhood of San Jose, but has recently lost her home in what she describes as a “slow motion earthquake” that is slowly disappearing the town.

What began as a small crack in a street a few months ago has turned into a huge subsidence that since September has destroyed 30 houses and that threatens to continue expanding in this community in San Miguel de Desamparados, in the south of San Jose.

“This is like an earthquake in slow motion and thank God it happened that way. If it had been a strong earthquake, many people would have died,” Duarte told EFE.

According to the residents of the community, the municipality did not pay attention to a 2017 study by University of Costa Rica geologist Rolando Mora, which warned of the risk of the town subsiding.

The report says that the terrain is unstable and does not comply with the safety factors established by Costa Rica’s Geotechnical Code for Slopes and Hillsides, which is aggravated by the characteristics of the soil materials and the influence of a geologic fault.

Among the recommendations of the report are the need to stabilize the ground and stop the landslide, such as with walls, fillings, anchors, among other things.

Valladolid is a typical middle-class area of Costa Rica, where neighbors paid or continue to pay mortgage loans to the banks with which they built their houses. Some have lived on the site for decades.

Duarte was the first to vacate her home before it was destroyed. She took refuge in her daughter’s house, located about 100 meters away and which is now one of the most at risk if the subsidence continues and there is no response from the authorities.

The state-run Mixed Institute of Social Aid has provided some financial support to families that have already left the town, but others have had to seek help from family and friends.

The municipal and government authorities have promised to evaluate an investment plan to stabilize the land and prevent the damage from spreading.

However, the fear of residents whose homes have not yet suffered damage is that the solution will take months and the problem will grow, aggravated by the rains that in recent weeks have caused hurricanes Eta and Iota.

“Here there was negligence and now we have a catastrophe,” said Liria Perez, a resident who blamed the municipality of Desamparados for “ignoring” geological studies.

The residents hope that the authorities will quickly carry out a study of the land that will determine the degree of risk that the remaining houses are under, but above all, that they will provide a solution to the underlying problem.


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