Power was restored across much of Costa Rica after a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck near the country’s Pacific coast, triggering tsunami warnings across Central America. One death was reported.
Government buildings in San Jose were evacuated and roads, bridges and homes in several parts of the country were damaged when the quake struck at 8:42 a.m., knocking out electricity and phone lines. A 50-year-old woman died from a heart attack during the quake, the Red Cross said. A tsunami warning for Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua was later canceled and power has largely been restored, television channel Teletica said.
“The first thing we want to do is transmit a message of calm,” President Laura Chinchilla said in a national address from San Jose about two hours after the quake hit.
The quake struck 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of San Jose, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It hit a popular tourist and surfing region that is home to hotels owned by Four Seasons Holdings Inc. and Hilton Worldwide Inc. In downtown San Jose, windows rattled, electricity flickered on and off and car alarms rang out in the streets as people ran outside in the quake’s aftermath.
“I was sitting up against the window and I jumped out of my seat,” said Rebecca Ruffer, a U.S. exchange student studying at the Universidad Veritas in San Jose who was on the third floor of her building when the quake struck. “This is the worst earthquake since I’ve been here.”
Costa Rica and the rest of Central America are susceptible to earthquakes because of the movement of at least four tectonic plates, including the Cocos and Caribbean plates. The country has suffered four quakes of magnitude 6.1 or greater since 1991. A magnitude 6.4 quake near Cartago in 1910 killed 700 people, according to the USGS.
“Central America is a highly seismically-active region,” said John Bellini, a geophysicist at the USGS. “A 7.6 is not a surprise” for the region, he said.
At least 75 aftershocks were recorded following the initial tremor, according to Costa Rica’s seismology agency.
“It started off very slowly, not unlike the smaller earthquakes we have here,” said Eric Turner, a press official at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose. “But it picked up strength and was longer in duration.”
About 80,000 to 90,000 U.S. citizens live in Costa Rica and approximately one million U.S. visitors travel to the country’s tourist destinations, such as the Guanacaste region, each year, Turner said. The State Department established a toll-free phone number concerned families can use to get more information. The number is 1-888-407-4747.
There were no reports of significant damage or injuries at Marriott International Inc.’s properties, said John Wolf, a spokesman for the Bethesda Maryland-based company. Marriott, the largest publicly traded U.S. hotel chain, has six hotels in Costa Rica, according to its website.
Sorya Gaulin, a spokeswoman for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, said in an e-mail that her company is monitoring the situation and that customers and guests were safe. Four Seasons has one property on the Papagayo Peninsula.
The country’s largest refinery, Refinadora Costarricense de Petroleo SA, wasn’t damaged by the quake, manager Henry Arias said in a phone interview. Production at the refinery, on the Caribbean coast, has been halted since late last year for an expansion project, Arias said.
The Costa Rica colon strengthened 0.2 percent to 497.25. The yield on the country’s dollar bonds maturing in 2020 were little changed at 4.82 percent.
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