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Damage reported after magnitude-7.6 earthquake hits Costa Rica

HOJANCHA, COSTA RICA (BNO NEWS) -- A powerful earthquake struck the coast of Costa Rica on early Wednesday evening, causing at least some damage and prompting tsunami warnings which were later canceled, seismologists said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake at 8:42 p.m. local time (1442 GMT) was centered about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) northeast of Hojancha, a town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It struck about 40.8 kilometers (25.4 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica (OVSICORI) placed the epicenter of the earthquake in the Pacific Ocean, about 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) south of Samara. The agency said it was still evaluating data to determine the exact magnitude but acknowledged it exceeded magnitude 7.

Residents in large parts of Costa Rico reported feeling the powerful earthquake, prompting scores of people to flee their homes or to higher ground in coastal areas. "The Costa Rican Red Cross recommends that people around the country remain calm after the earthquake which was felt a few minutes ago," a Red Cross spokesperson said.

There were reports that buildings near the epicenter were damaged and power outages were affecting some areas, but there were no immediate reports of casualties. Photos posted on the social networking website Facebook showed a bridge had collapsed in Sarapiqui, but witnesses said everyone was able to get off in time.

USGS computer models estimated some 55,000 people along the coast may have felt very strong shaking, which could potentially result in moderate to heavy damage. It said 805,000 people may have felt strong shaking, 2.9 million people may have felt moderate shaking, and nearly 6 million others may have felt weak to light shaking.

Costa Rican officials quickly ruled out the possibility of a tsunami, but the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center maintained tsunami warnings for nearly 2.5 hours as it awaited sea level readings. The tsunami warnings for Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua were canceled at 11:02 p.m. local time.

"Although sea level readings do not indicate that a tsunami was generated, there may have been destructive waves along coasts near the earthquake epicenter," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said in a bulletin, adding that local authorities can assume there is no longer a tsunami threat.

Tsunami warnings were earlier also issued for El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Peru but were canceled when seismologists downgraded the magnitude from a preliminary 7.9 to 7.6. A tsunami watch which had been issued for Chile was also canceled.

In the first few minutes after the earthquake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also accidentally issued a Caribbean-wide tsunami watch. "The tsunami watch for the Caribbean is canceled because it was meant for the Pacific and was inadvertently sent to the Caribbean by mistake. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused," the center said.

Costa Rica is on the so-called 'Pacific Ring of Fire', an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent and large earthquakes. An earthquake of unknown magnitude struck about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) southeast of San Jose in April 1910, killing at least 1,750 people in what remains the country's worst ever disaster.

Wednesday's earthquake comes just 1.5 week after a powerful earthquake struck the Pacific Ocean off the coast of El Salvador. The 7.3-magnitude earthquake, centered 131 kilometers (81 miles) south of the city of Puerto El Triunfo in the country's Usulután Department, generated a very small tsunami but caused no damage or casualties.

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