The danger of a tsunami is not restricted to the Costa Rican Pacific coast. The Caribbean has the potential for a devastating series of tall waves, according to the scientific literature.
The Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization began setting up a warning system in 2005.
The U.S. National Weather Service established the Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, in 2010 as a first step of a phased approach for the establishment of a Caribbean tsunami warning center, it said.
The danger appears to be remote, but scientists say that an earthquake, an undersea volcano eruption or even an oceanic meteor strike could produce tall waves that hit the shorelines.
Researchers at the University College London said in 2001 that a tsunami wave higher than any in recorded history could be generated by the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja in the Canary Islands. They speculated that the western flank of the volcano could break off and fall into the sea releasing energy that is half the annual amount of electricity used in the United States.
They estimated that the waves would be 40 to 50 meters high when they hit the Americas from the coast of Brazil north to the United States.
The danger of tsunamis was reinforced Thursday when Mexico’s Centro Ecological Akumal and the University of Colorado Boulder said evidence indicates the Yucatan Peninsula was hit by tsunami 1,500 years ago.
There are several lines of evidence for an ancient tsunami, including a large, wedge-shaped berm about 15 feet above sea level paved with washing machine-sized stones, said the University of Colorado in a release.
Set back in places more than a quarter of a mile from shore, the berm stretches for at least 30 miles, alternating between rocky headlands and crescent beaches as it tracks the outline of the Caribbean coast near the plush resorts of Playa del Carmen and Cancun, said the university.
Information about tsunamis is critical for expats who might choose to locate along Costa Rica’s beaches.
This country is not immune. The last recorded tsunami here was actually just south in Panamá. A summary said that in April 22, 1991, at Bocas del Toro, Panamá, people reported that Las Delicias sand bank normally covered by 60 to 90 centimeters of water emerged as the sea receded less than 10 minutes after the Limón earthquake to the north and remained above water for five to seven minutes.
Afterwards several waves entered the bay with great force flooding 50 to 100 meters in the flat northern part of the town, the summary added. At Carenero Island violent waves destroyed dwellings, and at San Cristobal Island the sea receded several meters for about 45 minutes. People went on the beach to catch trapped fish, the report added. The report is part of a summary of 50 Caribbean earthquakes produced by University of Colorado researchers.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake is the strongest in Costa Rican recorded history.
Costa Rica has enacted a law creating a maritime zone. The law covers 200 meters of the coast above mean high tide. Building is only permitted in most cases above the 50-meter mark.
Tsunamis elsewhere have been much higher. On Jan. 12, 2010, the earthquake in Haiti caused a three-meter tsunami.
The Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission lists at least 75 tsunamis in the Caribbean over the past 500 years with more than 3,500 deaths since 1842.
That is higher than the 579 deaths attributed to Pacific tsunamis in the same period..
The Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program said that with explosive growth on countries facing the Caribbean, the historic totals greatly underestimate the potential for deaths.