A powerful, magnitude-7.6 earthquake shook Costa Rica and a wide swathe of Central America yesterday, collapsing some houses, blocking highways and causing panic, but officials said there was only one reported death, from a heart attack.
The United States Geological Survey said the quake was centred about 38 miles (60 kilometres) from the town of Liberia. The magnitude initially was estimated at 7.9, but was quickly downgraded. Local residents said it shook for about 30 seconds.
While officials cancelled an initial tsunami warning, local police supervisor Josť Angel Gomez said about 5,000 people, 80 per cent of the population, had been evacuated from coastal towns in the Samara district west of the quake's centre several hours after the quake struck at 8:42 a.m. (10:42 a.m. EDT; 1442 GMT). He said water was receding from the shore. One man died of a heart attack caused by fright, said Carlos Miranda, a Red Cross worker in Liberia, but there were no reports of deaths directly caused by the quake.
A preliminary review revealed some structural damage near the epicentre, but no deaths or injuries, said Douglas Salgado, a geographer with Costa Rica's National Commission of Risk Prevention and Emergency Attention.
The review also uncovered a landslide on the main highway that connects the capital of San Jose to the Pacific coast city of Puntarenas, Salgado said. Hotels and other structures suffered cracks in walls and saw items knocked off shelves.
"There's chaos in San Josť because it was a strong earthquake of long duration," Salgado said. "It was pretty strong and caused collective chaos."
The quake was also felt in neighbouring Nicaragua, which cancelled schools in some areas, and in Panama.