SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Power was knocked out across Costa Rica’s capital and phone lines failed 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 and bridges in several parts of the country were damaged, the national emergency commission reported on its website. A 50-year-old woman died from a heart attack during the quake, television channel Teletica said, while a tsunami warning for Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua was canceled.
The quake struck 87 miles west of San Jose at 8:42 a.m.
local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It hit a popular tourist and surfing region that is home to hotels owned by Four Seasons and Hilton Worldwide. 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.
“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, adding that in addition to a tsunami there is a risk of landslides.
President Laura Chinchilla was meeting with members of her cabinet in San Jose when the temblor struck and immediately traveled to the country’s emergency operations center to help oversee the government’s response, the national emergency
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 at least 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.
“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 1 million 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, 888-407-4747, that concerned families can use for more information.
There were no reports of significant damage or injuries at Marriott International’s properties, said John Wolf, a spokesman for the Bethesda Md.-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 email that customers and guests were safe. Four Seasons has one property on the Papagayo Peninsula.
The country’s largest refinery, Refinadora Costarricense de Petroleo, 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.