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Quake Hits Costa Rica and Panama : Disaster: The 7.4 temblor kills at least 19. Damage is heavy in Caribbean coastal area.

From Associated Press

A powerful earthquake rolled through Costa Rica and Panama on Monday, killing at least 19 people, toppling office buildings and bridges and destroying hundreds of homes.

At least 11 people were killed in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal city of Puerto Limon. Eight died and 15 were hurt in Changuinola, a small town in western Panama where scores of houses collapsed.

The quake, with a magnitude of 7.4, caused extensive damage to buildings in San Jose, the Costa Rican capital. Walls cracked, windows shattered and electrical service and telephone lines were knocked out.

The quake was centered 70 miles southeast of San Jose, said Willis Jacobs of the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo. The first jolt, which was followed by more than 20 aftershocks, five of them serious, hit the small Central American nation at 3:58 p.m. (2:58 p.m. PDT).

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Landslides and three collapsed bridges blocked the road between the capital and Puerto Limon, 80 miles to the east, said hospital officials in the port. Authorities in the badly damaged city appealed to San Jose for food and medicine.

“The earthquake damage is really extensive and the magnitude is big. Many houses are destroyed, and so are several office buildings. The atmosphere is stark and sad here,” said Miguel Orozco, deputy Red Cross chief in Puerto Limon.

President Rafael Angel Calderon said the U.S. government was sending a planeload of humanitarian aid, and neighboring Nicaragua also promised help.

Alberto Lee, another Red Cross spokesman in Puerto Limon, told a news conference that rescue workers reported at least 11 people killed in the city of 130,000. It was not immediately clear how many were injured.

The dead included at least three people killed when the two-story International Hotel collapsed, Red Cross spokesman Jose Manuel Calvo said in San Jose.

Lee said eight others were crushed to death in an office building. There were reports of collapsed houses and burning factories.

“I saw at least 40 to 50 homes destroyed and one person dead, with great damage to the railway line. There is no electricity or running water,” said Carlos Garza, a Puerto Limon resident, in a telephone interview.

More than a dozen villages between Puerto Limon and the Panamanian border suffered heavy damage, Orozco said.

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Gasoline storage tanks at a government-owned refinery on the outskirts of Puerto Limon exploded with the first jolt, injuring three workers, Transportation Minister Guillermo Madriz told reporters.

The Customs House was destroyed, a fire department spokesman said in an interview with Radio Monumental.

Volunteers tried to evacuate some injured people to San Jose, but found the roads blocked, officials said. Authorities planned to evacuate them by air this morning.

In Panama, Red Cross volunteer Gilberto Cano said in an interview with Radio RPC that eight people were killed and 15 injured in Changuinola, in Bocas de Toro province 10 miles from the Costa Rican border.

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Changuinola Mayor Simon Abadi said at least 1,000 people were left homeless in the province.

San Jose residents fled to the streets when the 15-second quake hit, but there were no early reports of deaths in the capital.


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