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USGS: Major earthquake damages Costa Rica coast; two injuries reported

A major earthquake hit northwestern Costa Rica on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Buildings were evacuated and others sustained structural damage, but only two minor injuries were immediately reported.
Updated at 1:27 p.m. ET: A major earthquake hit northwestern Costa Rica on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Buildings were evacuated and others sustained structural damage, but only two minor injuries were immediately reported.

The quake -- initially rated at magnitude 7.9 but then revised by the USGS to 7.6 -- struck at 10:42 a.m. ET at a depth of about 25 miles about 7 miles southeast of Nicoya. The town of 15,000 people is in a Pacific coastal area about 90 miles from the capital, San Jose, where government buildings were under evacuation orders, the newspaper La Nacion reported.



The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center canceled tsunami warnings for Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla Miranda met with the National Emergency Council and the International Committee of the Red Cross later in the morning. In a news conference monitored by NBC News, Chinchilla confirmed that several buildings had been damaged in the capital and called on residents of the western coast to remain calm.

Power was out in the provincial capital, Puntarenas, where Monsignor Sanabria Hospital was evacuated for a structural review amid visible signs of damage.

Two people suffered minor injuries at the Hotel Barcel Tambor Beach in Playa Tambor, said Alcides Gonzalez, mayor of the coastal town of Paquera. The nature of their injuries wasn't immediately known, but Gonzalez told La Nacion the resort hotel was damaged when a pipe collapsed. It couldn't be immediately determined whether the victims were tourists or hotel employees.

Victor Suniga, owner of another hotel, the Samara Tree House Inn, told NBC News that the quake was felt "very strongly."

"Everyone ran from their businesses and homes into the street," he said. "It was frightening. But there have been no reports of damage. Power was shut down for safety but is now beginning to return."

Robert Torres, desk manager at the Hotel Rio Tempisque in Nicoya, said the quake was also felt there.

"All businesses in the town have shut down for the day and sent their workers home. There was power in the area following the quake, but it has been turned off for safety checks," he told NBC News. He said he was unaware of any damage in Nicoya.

There were local media reports of serious damage to houses in the Santa Cruz area.

At 12:05 p.m. ET, the USGS said it had received 191 reports from people in places from El Salvador to Panama who said they had felt the ground shaking.

The USGS said that "overall, the population in this region resides in structures that are vulnerable to earthquake shaking, though some resistant structures exist."

"The predominant vulnerable building types are adobe block and mud wall construction," it said.



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