Tourists evacuated after fatal Costa Rica earthquake


VARA BLANCA, Costa Rica – Rescue helicopters ferried stranded tourists on Friday from a picturesque volcanic area in Costa Rica where a strong earthquake killed at least 13 people.

Ten victims were buried when Thursday’s 6.1-magnitude quake triggered a landslide near the La Paz waterfall at Vara Blanca, on the flanks of the Poas Volcano, Red Cross spokesman Luis Guzman said.

“It was terrifying,” said Spanish tourist Nazario Llinarez, 50, who described how he was at the waterfall with his wife when part of the hillside collapsed. The pair scrambled up a slope and spent the night huddled in a bus before being evacuated by helicopter on Friday.

“I can’t describe what I have lived through,” Llinarez said at San Jose airport, as his wife wept.

It was not clear if the dead included foreign visitors but the US Embassy in San Jose said some 40-60 American tourists in the area, northwest of the capital San Jose, were unharmed.

The quake set off landslides that devastated the Poas Volcano national park and tore apart a road. Some 300 trapped tourists and about 100 Costa Ricans spent a chilly night in the valley.

Nine rescue helicopters began ferrying them back to San Jose on Friday as aftershocks rumbled in the region.

Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination due to its lush natural parks, volcanoes and rich wildlife, but is prone like the rest of Central America to natural disasters.

Three children were reported dead on Thursday – a teenager crushed when her home collapsed in a landslide and two young girls selling candy on the slope of the Poas Volcano.

Costa Rican media said more people could be trapped in collapsed or crushed houses and dozens could be injured.

A hotel near the La Paz waterfall and several houses were destroyed by fallen rock close to where dazed-looking British, American, Dutch, and French tourists stood around waiting to be evacuated.

Aerial television images from Thursday showed people trapped in the valley trying to keep warm around bonfires and waving for help. The images also showed buses tipped on their side.

“There are many buses and many vehicles that are trapped,” said deputy public safety minister Jose Torres.

Several bridges in the area also were destroyed.

Costa Rica has no army and, lacking a fleet of military helicopters, the government was scrambling to hire as many private helicopters as possible. Torres said the United States was sending two helicopters from a base in Central America.

Some 1,200 people from affected areas were evacuated to shelters.