Violent quake rocks Costa Rica, three killed

A strong 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck Costa Rica, killing a teenager as well as two children selling candy near a national park, stranding hundreds of tourists and damaging buildings in the capital.


AFP - Three people were killed and scores others injured when a strong 6.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Costa Rica on Thursday, causing widespread panic and damage.

"Today is a day of mourning for Costa Ricans, because the earthquake killed three people, two children and a woman," said President Oscar Arias at a joint news conference with the head of the National Emergency Commission.

Police and neighbors found the bodies of two sisters who had been selling sweets near the epicenter, near the Poas volcano, one of Costa Rica's main tourist attractions, after they were killed by a landslide caused by the quake.

The woman died of a heart attack.

The quake injured 208 people, damaged some 42 communities as well as electricity networks, and cut off some 300 tourists in a luxury hotel near Poas, according to emergency services.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake measured 6.1 on the moment magnitude scale, revising down an initial figure of 6.2.

The quake, which hit at 1:21 pm (1921 GMT) some 35 kilometers (22 miles) northwest of the capital, shook water out of swimming pools and witnesses said they had not felt such a strong tremor in 30 years.

It was felt across the Central American country and also in neighboring Nicaragua.

A spokesman for Costa Rican Red Cross said that two communities near the epicenter, Vara Blanca and Cinchona, had been cut off due to serious road damage.

Residents telephoned local radio programs to report injured people needing urgent attention while officials warned of landslides on roads in mountainous areas near the epicenter, where aftershocks continued.

Transport Minister Karla Gonzalez said the government had contracted most private helicopters in the country, which has no army, to help with rescue operations.

The emergency commission declared a red alert in the capital and surrounding areas "where serious damage to infrastructure, roads and homes has been reported and some people were injured and trapped in their houses."

San Jose residents reported broken windows, cracks in buildings, ceilings and roads.

Public buildings, including the finance ministry, were evacuated, and many people ran onto the streets of the capital.

The city's international airport briefly suspended all flights, a spokeswoman said.

Another, smaller quake shook central Costa Rica on Wednesday, causing no victims or damages.

Costa Rica registered more than 4,700 earthquakes in 2008, of which around 60 were felt by the population, according to the observatory.

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