* Tsunami warning canceled for Costa Rica, Panama and
* Biggest quake to hit Costa Rica in more than 20 years
By Isabella Cota
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, Sept 5 A powerful
earthquake rocked Costa Rica on Wednesday, killing at least two
people, sparking landslides, knocking down buildings, and
briefly triggering a tsunami warning.
Striking a tourist region popular with Hollywood stars,
Costa Rica's worst quake in over two decades sowed panic in the
capital, disrupting power supplies and communications, and
caused an entire hospital on the Pacific coast to be evacuated.
The Red Cross said two people died in Guanacaste, the
northwestern province at the epicenter of the 7.6 magnitude
quake, which split open tarmac roads, cracked gravestones and
sent books tumbling off library shelves.
One of the dead was a man working on a construction site who
was killed when part of a wall fell on top of him. The other was
a woman who had a heart attack.
Costa Rican television said 22 people were also treated for
injuries, but the Red Cross could not confirm this.
Locals were shocked by the force of the earthquake, which
was felt as far away as Nicaragua and Panama, and the biggest to
hit Costa Rica since a 7.6 magnitude quake in 1991 left 47 dead.
"I was inside my car at a stop sign and all of a sudden
everything started shaking. I thought the street was going to
break in two," said Erich Johanning, a 30-year-old who works in
Internet marketing in San Jose. "Immediately, I saw dozens of
people running out of their homes and office buildings."
Dozens of patients were stretchered or wheeled out of the
Monsenor Sanabria hospital just metres (yards) from the Pacific
coast after the facade of the nine-storey building began to
crumble during the quake, police from the port city of
Local media said the building housed 218 patients and that
all were relocated to other hospitals or sent home.
Actor Mel Gibson owns a lush forest retreat at Playa
Barrigona in Samara not far from the epicenter, which he
recently put up for sale for $29.75 million. Guests to the
200-hectare (500-acre) property have included Bruce Willis and
Esteban Moreno of the national emergency services (CNE),
said some buildings in the worst-hit areas had collapsed, though
he added they were mostly older, and of poor quality.
Some 21 hotels reported minor damage such as broken windows
and fallen objects in Guanacaste province and the north of the
country, but none reported serious damage, said Alcides Mora,
spokesperson for the Costa Rican Tourism Institute.
The small Central American nation may have been spared worse
destruction due to the fact the quake struck fairly deep, coming
in some 40.8 km (25.4 miles) below the surface.
The epicenter was about 87 miles (140 km) from San Jose, the
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.
BEACHES AND SURF
Guanacaste is known for its beaches, surf and volcanoes.
With several nature and marine reserves it is less tropical than
the rest of Costa Rica, with stretches of open savannah and
The province's head of police, Rafael Angel Araya, said
schools and homes suffered serious damage and that many Samara
residents had left home after a tsunami alert was issued.
"Half of the population, mostly foreigners who go online,
decided to leave their homes temporarily and are now returning,"
Araya said. "This was not an evacuation".
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially issued a
warning for Pacific coastlines of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and
Panama, but this was later canceled. The center had earlier
warned of tsunamis for as far afield as Mexico and Peru.
The CNE said landslides had blocked some roads and that
damage was done to some homes in built-up areas in the Nicoya
Peninsula on the Pacific coast.
In the town of Nicoya, about 11 km (7 miles) from the
epicenter, Selenia Obando, a receptionist at the Hotel Curime,
said the building was left without lights and power. A floor had
collapsed in the hotel but there were no injuries.
"It was horrible, like being in a blender going round and
round," Obando said. "All the water sloshed out of the swimming
pool. It's now about half full."
There was also an early report of damage to the Hotel Riu
Guanacaste on Matapalo beach in Guanacaste.
But America Nava, a reservations clerk with Riu in Mexico,
said it had only been evacuated. "There is no damage to the
hotel, they're checking it to make sure everything is in order.
As soon as that is finished, the guests will return."
The last serious quake to hit Costa Rica was a 6.1 magnitude
quake in January 2009, which killed 40 people.