A magnitude-7.6 earthquake rattled Costa Rica and neighboring Central American countries Wednesday morning, damaging buildings in the northwestern province of Guanacaste and sending panicked residents across the country into the streets.
The National Emergency Commission initially reported two deaths and at least a dozen injuries in Guanacaste, but later in the day, a Red Cross spokesman said one person had died from a heart attack.
“I was working on the sixth floor of the court, and we all started running for the stairs,” said Paul Fuentes, a lawyer from the southeastern San José district of Zapote. “You could barely walk when it was shaking at its strongest. They’ve closed most of the legislative buildings until tomorrow. My cellphone isn’t working so I can’t get through to family.”
The Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica reported the quake’s epicenter in the Nicoya Peninsula, 6 miles northeast of the city of Hojancha and 87 miles west of the capital. The U.S. Geological Survey said the depth of the quake was 28 miles, which helped avoid more severe damage across the country, seismologists said.
Several buildings in Guanacaste were damaged, and some roads were blocked, residents said. Initial reports included at least one bridge collapse, and other bridges were damaged, including the Friendship Bridge over the Tempisque River.
No damage was reported to major highways, although access to the northern-central city of San Carlos is limited, with debris and landslides blocking some routes.
President Laura Chinchilla delivered a televised message urging residents to remain calm.
The Civil Aviation Authority reported that flights at Costa Rica’s two international airports are running as scheduled, and no major damage was reported. A small crack in the runway at Daniel Oduber International Airport, in Guanacaste’s provincial capital Liberia, would not affect air traffic, officials said.
A tsunami warning for the Pacific coasts of Central and South America, issued immediately following the quake, has been cancelled, although some 5,000 coastal residents near the quake’s epicenter were evacuated for several hours, CBS News reported.
Near the epicenter, residents reported power outages for several hours, as well as problems with cellphone and Internet networks. Power was restored to some of the area by midday, but work continued throughout the day. Chinchilla said power likely would be restored to most of the area by Thursday.
Read more coverage of Wednesday’s earthquake in this Friday’s print edition of The Tico Times, and follow updates at ticotimes.net.