Just days into their new life in Costa Rica an Auckland family have been caught up in a powerful earthquake that rocked the South America nation.
The 7.6-magnitude quake struck Costa Rica early today (NZ time) killing at least two people, sparking landslides, knocking down buildings, and briefly triggering a tsunami warning.
Residents of the capital San Jose said phones went down, electricity poles rattled on the streets and water flowed out of pools.
Auckland IT project manager Damon Keats moved to San Jose just this week with his wife and two young children.
"We had about 20 seconds of rocking in San Jose and could actually see the building moving," he said.
"All the Costa Ricans were trying to contact their families to make sure they were OK, but the mobile networks were jammed with all the traffic for about an hour afterwards."
Keats, who moved to Costa Rica for a short-term work project, was evacuated from his office for 45 minutes.
"They inspected the building, then it was back to work."
At the epicentre, the beach town of Cangrejal, Jairo Zuniga, 27, said everything in his house fell when the quake hit at 8:42am (2.42am today, NZ time).
"It was incredibly strong. I've felt earthquakes, but this one was 'wow','' he said.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered about 60 kilometres from the town of Liberia and 140km west of the capital, San Jose, where frightened people ran into the streets.
The Red Cross said two people died. One 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 suffered a heart attack.
Costa Rican television said 22 people were also treated for injuries. The Red Cross could not confirm this.
Locals were shocked by the force of the quake, 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 the 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."
Rosa Pichardo, 45, who lives in Samara, was walking on the beach with her family when the quake hit.
"When we felt the earthquake, we held onto each other because we kept falling," Pichardo said. "I've never felt anything like this. We just couldn't stay standing. My feet gave out under me. It was terrible, terrible."
Michelle Landwer, owner of the Belvedere Hotel in Samara, north of the epicenter, said she was having breakfast with about 10 people when the earthquake struck.
"The whole building was moving, I couldn't even walk," Landwer said. "Here in my building there was no real damage. Everything was falling, like glasses and everything."
President Laura Chinchilla said there had not been reports of serious damage to buildings, although some hotels on the western Pacific coast had been hit, locals said.
Esteban Moreno, a spokesman for the national emergency services (CNE), said some buildings near the epicentre in the Pacific region of western Costa Rica had collapsed, though he added they were mostly older, and of poor structural quality.
There were local reports of the earthquake leaving its mark on hotels in the region, though Moreno said he was unaware of any serious damage suffered by tourist resorts.
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.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially issued a warning for Pacific coastlines of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama, but this was later cancelled. The centre had earlier warned of tsunamis for as far afield as Mexico and Peru.
The quake's epicentre was in western Costa Rica about 140km from San Jose, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said, and it was felt as far away as Nicaragua and Panama.
The Guanacaste region around the epicentre is known for its beaches, surf and volcanoes. With several nature and marine reserves it is less tropical than the rest of the Central American nation, with stretches of open savannah and mountains.
In the town of Nicoya, some 11km east-southeast of the epicentre, Selenia Obando, a receptionist at the Hotel Curime, said the building had been left without lights and electricity. 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."
Actor Mel Gibson owns a lush forest retreat at Playa Barrigona in Samara not far from the epicentre, which he recently put up for sale for US$29.75 million (NZ$37.4m). Guests to the 500 acre property have included Bruce Willis and Britney Spears.
The last serious quake to hit Costa Rica was a 6.1 magnitude quake in January 2009, which killed 40 people.
- Reuters and AP
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