At least three people were killed and scores 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,” Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said 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 candy 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 300 tourists in a luxury hotel near Poas, emergency services said.
The US Geological Survey said the quake measured 6.1 on the moment magnitude scale, revising down an initial figure of 6.2.
The quake, which hit at 1:21pm about 35km 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 deaths or damage.