A 7.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Costa Rica and a large portion of Central America today, causing damage and widespread panic but so far only two deaths—one from a heart attack, according to the Red Cross in Costa Rica.
Since the narrow country has water on both sides—Caribbean Sea to the east, Pacific Ocean to the west—there was a concern about the earthquake triggering a tsunami. Officials eventually canceled the initial tsunami warning, but they still took the precaution of evacuating about 5,000 people from coastal towns west of the quake’s center in Liberia. Liberia is in the northwest corner of the Central American nation of 4.7 million people, close to Nicaragua.
The U.S. Geological Survey initially estimated the quake at 7.9, but quickly downgraded it to 7.6.
In the town of Hojancha a few miles from the epicenter, city official Kenia Campos said the quake knocked down some houses and landslides blocked several roads.
“So far, we don’t have victims,” said Kenia Campos, an official from Hojancha, a town near the epicenter. “People were really scared … We have had moderate quakes but an earthquake (this strong) hadn’t happened in more than 50 years.”
An assessment of damage in the areas near the epicenter reveals structural damage, some landslides, and cracked walls and broken items—the result of the ground shaking for more than 30 seconds.
“There’s chaos in San Jose because it was a strong earthquake of long duration,” said Douglas Salgado, a geographer with Costa Rica’s National Commission of Risk Prevention and Emergency Attention. “It was pretty strong and caused collective chaos.”
Michelle Landwer, owner of the Belvedere Hotel in Samara, north of the epicenter, said she was having breakfast with about 10 people when the earthquake struck.
“The whole building was moving, I couldn’t even walk,” Landwer said. “Here in my building there was no real damage. Everything was falling, like glasses and everything.”
The quake was about 25 miles below the surface, considered fairly deep. Deeper quakes tend to be less damaging than ones closer to the surface, but more widely felt.