Page last updated at 22:02 GMT, Saturday, 10 January 2009

Thirteen dead in Costa Rica quake

Rescuers carry an injured woman away from the danger zone
Rescuers carry an injured woman away from the danger zone

Rescuers have searched mountainous areas of central Costa Rica after a powerful earthquake on Thursday that left at least 13 people dead.

The 6.1-magnitude tremor hit Poas Volcano National Park north of the capital, San Jose, causing landslides to block roads and damage buildings.

Red Cross officials said 10 people were missing, believed buried by a landslide at the popular La Paz waterfall.

Rescue workers fear more victims will be found as relief operations widen.

The bodies of several men were recovered from a buried van in the area late on Friday, bringing the death toll to 13, Red Cross spokesman Freddy Roman said.

"We are working on removing corpses, taking picks and shovels on all-terrain vehicles to reach areas where people may be buried," said Victor Falla, National Emergency Commission official.


Footage from a local TV studio showed ceiling lights swaying

The Costa Rican government declared a state of emergency in San Jose and surrounding areas, including Cartago, Alajuela and Heredia.

Today is a day of mourning for Costa Ricans
President Oscar Arias

Transport Minister Karla Gonzalez said the government had contracted most of the private helicopters in the country, which has no army, to help with rescue operations, the Reuters news agency reported.

Search teams were trying to reach hundreds of tourists and locals in two mountain villages which were cut off after a landslide destroyed roads.

Backed by helicopters, hundreds of rescuers, firemen and police worked through the night to try to open up the road to the villages of Vara Blanca and Cinchona, which both lie near the epicentre, according to the AFP news agency.

Widespread panic

The earthquake, which struck at 1321 (1921 GMT) on Thursday, cut off electricity in parts of the capital and officials reported damage to roads and houses.

American Dan Whitlock said the tremor was so strong that guests stumbled as they ran out of the hotel he was staying in.

"I was outside and all of a sudden I could see the whole building shaking," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

"Today is a day of mourning for Costa Ricans," President Oscar Arias said at a news conference.

"These losses of life fill us with pain; our prayers will be for their families," Arias added, noting that "hundreds of families had seen serious damage to their homes."

The president is due to visit the earthquake zone.

The US Geological Survey said the tremor was centred some 35km (22 miles) north-west of San Jose.

Costa Rica is located on the Pacific Ring, which forms a belt of seismic activity along the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

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