Experts and residents wonder: Is this the big one?

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico and the Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica now place the event off the coast near Sámara. Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico/A.M. Costa Rica

Pacific coast residents and particularly those living on the Nicoya peninsula have long awaited a major earthquake.

That the quake would take place was so certain that emergency officials have been giving seminars on the topic to raise awareness in the populations.

Now the experts are about to study to determine if the major quake that hit at 8:42 a.m. today, Wednesday, was that long-predicted event. If so, the country escaped cheaply. Two deaths were confirmed. One of the deaths was from an indirect cause.

The quake was of relatively long duration, perhaps 30 seconds. The epicenter was estimated by the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia to be near the Pacific coast community of Sámara.

The Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica revised its estimate and also placed the epicenter 6.6 kilometers south soutwest of the same town. That would be 36.1 kilometers or about 22 miles south and west of the administrative center of Nicoya.

The quake was felt strongly in all of the country. Those in buildings in the Central Valley fled to the streets and parking lots. Some structures suffered superficial damage. There have been at least two dozen repetitions, and more are predicted. One had a magnitude of 4.8, said the Observatorio.

Servicios Periodísticos Globales S. A. photo
Nicoya residents walk past rubble that fell as a
result of the quake

Some schools closed for the day. There were reports of electrical outages in Desamparados, San Pedro and, of course, on the Nicoya peninsula.The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, S.A. later confirmed outages in Guadalupe and Sabanilla and in San Antonio de Belén, San Juan, San Lorenzo and Santa Bárbara de Heredia as well as Zapote. Road surfaces cracked on the peninsula. Patrons at a Sámara service station were reported to be stuck there to do a shift in the road surface.

The national emergency commission said its experts were conducting a flyover of affected areas to assess damage. There were landslides, and some blocked major highways, including Ruta 32 north of San José. A bridge on a secondary road in Sarapiquí collapsed. Windows cracked and shattered, including those at the Banco Nacional office in Playas del Coco.

An alert for a tsunami was issued and then withdrawn.

The final estimate of magnitude was 7.6. That was in the range of the April 22, 1991, Limón quake that was estimated at 7.5. that event resulted in 50 casualties.

The May 4, 1910, quake that destroyed Cartago was estimated at just 6.7 That quake caused between 400
and 700 deaths. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake March 4, 1924, caused the highest level of destruction ever recorded in Costa Rica, and killed 70 people and around Orotina near the central Pacific coast.

A 6.2 magnitude earthquake Jan. 8, 2009, destroyed the mountain town of Cinchona in the province of Alajuela, killed 23 people, left seven persons missing and injured dozens. The quake also changed the area’s landscape and scenic attractions after causing 180 landslides.

A spokesperson for the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that President Laura Chinchilla arrived at commission offices not long after the quake today to help in the assessment of damages. She urged calm.

Residents reported that objects fell in the Central Valley, Puntarenas, Cañas, Grecia, Quepos, Tilarán, Turrubares and in Cóbano, Jicaral, Paquera in the entire canton of Carrillo, which are on the Nicoya peninsula. There were unconfirmed reports of some homes on the peninsula being damaged beyond use.

The commission said that its offices all over the country reported by radio electrical outages and structural damage especially on the peninsula. Two homes were reported to be heavily damaged in Nosara north of Sámara.

Expats took to the various Internet discussion lists to recount their fears and experiences. The Internet continued to function while cell telephones and some landlines suffered outages. In some cases this was due to excessive use. Ham radio operators also obtained some first-hand reports.

Some individuals suffered bouts of anxiety due to the quake.

Earthquake experts attributed the quake to the subduction of the Cocos plate beneath the Caribbean. This is the usual cause of quakes in western Costa Rica. The depth was estimated at 40 kilometers, some 25 miles.

Experts at the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico have been predicting a major quake for years in the gulf of Nicoya east of where the epicenter was estimated today. They predicted extensive damage and a shifting and uplift of the coast. An early report today said there may have been a shift of the beaches on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya peninsula near Ostional. The last major earthquake recorded in Nicoya was the one in 1950, and such events are expected to occur every 50 years.

Costa Rica also has at least 150 local faults that can cause serious damage, the Red Sismológica Nacional, an agency of the Universidad de Costa Rica has warned.

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