Mon, Jan 12, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Death toll rising in Costa Rica

SEARCH CONTINUES Trained dogs signaled that more bodies were still buried underneath a landslide, including four people presumably inside their vehicles

AP , VARA BLANCA DE ALAJUELA, COSTA RICA

Searchers found more bodies on Saturday in a restaurant buried under fallen earth, bringing the death toll to 16 as helicopters ferried residents and tourists out of a quake-stricken region in Costa Rica, the Red Cross said.

The 6.1-magnitude earthquake caused a hillside to collapse near the town of Vara Blanca de Alajuela on Thursday, damaging 10km of road and sending rocks and earth tumbling down on passing cars.

Many of the dead were trapped inside vehicles, while others were found inside a small restaurant, Red Cross officials said.

Rescuers were using trained dogs and heavy machinery to search through the rubble, but Red Cross spokesman Freddy Roman said hope of finding survivors was diminishing.

Roman said three bodies were found inside the restaurant on Saturday, raising the confirmed death toll to 16.

Witnesses said at least three other people had been seen at the eatery before the quake hit the area north of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose.

“This is very hard. God has taken him away, but we hope to get his body back to give him a Christian burial,” said Jose Zamora, whose brother Francisco is believed to be among those killed at the restaurant.

One of the bodies recovered was tentatively identified as an 11-year-old boy.

Trained dogs signaled that more bodies were still buried underneath the landslide, including four people presumably inside their vehicles.

Juan Bautista Quesada, 66, was at his house in Vara Blanca when the quake struck.

“The house was swinging like a hammock,” Quesada said. “It wasn’t until it was over that I saw there was blood on the floor ... and I saw I had wounds on my head and shoulder from where the roof had fallen on me.”

Argentine tourist Silvana Lopez was driving in a rented car with her family.

“Suddenly the road disappeared in front of us and behind us,” Lopez said.

She took refuge along with several other people in a nearby field where they spent the night.

The National Emergency Committee said that helicopters had flown at least 250 people, including tourists, the wounded and the elderly, out of the region — a mountainous area with few access roads, most of which were blocked by landslides.

Roman said about 45 people were still isolated in cut-off areas, and 1,378 people had sought refuge in shelters.

The US Geological Survey said the temblor was centered 35km northwest of San Jose, near the Poas Volcano National Park.

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