SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA – September 6th, 2012 -
At 8:42 yesterday morning, while a few were still sleeping, others in school and many at work, a strong earthquake shook the Costa Rican land. Many ran out of their houses, while others stayed put, not sure of what to do. Mothers picked up their children, trying to keep them safe, and neighbors gathered in the safest locations they could find.
Costa Ricans describe the earthquake as “extremely long and very strong,” and, although the population is familiar with earthquakes, it unnerved the country, nonetheless.
Despite what appears to be limited damage, the powerful quake has rattled both Costa Ricans , tourists and foreigners who have relocated in the country. But Costa Rica suffered remarkably little damage from yesterday’s earthquake – a few blocked highways, some collapsed houses and two deaths, one of a heart attack caused by fright and another from trauma, and approximately 20 injured (according to the CR Red Cross), none of whom were Americans (according to American Embassy).
The earthquake lasted 1 minute and 10 seconds, and was of 7.6 magnitude in the Richter scale. The quake was 25 miles below the surface, and was followed by 3 strong aftershocks of magnitudes above 4.
What happened in Haiti?
Now, lets see what happened in Haiti, 2010. On January 12th, 2010, the strongest and most devastating earthquake since 1770 shook Haiti. The earthquake registered a magnitude of 7.0 in the Richter scale, and lasted somewhere between 30-40 seconds. The depth was of 8.1 miles underground, and there were 8 aftershocks of magnitudes between 4.3 and 5.9 in the two hours after the main earthquake.
An estimated three million people were affected by the quake. The Haitian government reported that an estimated 316.000 people died, 300.000 had been injured, and 1.000.000 made homeless. The government also estimated that 250.000 residences and 30.000 commercial buildings had collapsed or were severely damaged.
Many countries responded to appeals for humanitarian aid, pledging funds and dispatching rescue and medical teams, engineers and support personnel. Communication systems, air, land, and sea transport facilities , hospitals and electrical networks were damaged by the earthquake. Port of Prince’s morgues were overwhelmed with tens of thousands of bodies, and many bodies were buried in mass graves.
Why is it that an earthquake of this magnitude caused so little damage in Costa Rica?
If the conditions of the earthquake itself seem to be so similar, why is it that in Costa Rica, the damages were so few in comparison to Haiti 2010?
Well, to begin with, tremors that occur deep underground tend to be less damaging, but their shaking can be felt over a wider area. Costa Rica’s earthquake was 25 miles below the surface, while Haiti was only 8.1
“If it was a shallower event, it would be a significantly higher hazard,” said seismologist Daniel McNamara from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The relatively little damage was also due to strict building codes in Costa Rica, a country that has long enjoyed more stability, better governance and stronger economic development than many of its Central American neighbors, and certainly, than Haiti.
Olman Vargas, president of the National College of Architecture said, “ we have a culture of concrete and steel. Years ago we abandoned building in mud and adobe, something that’s caused a lot of problems and that they’re continuing in other countries.”
Costa Rica’s anti-earthquake structural codes have been updated in line with the latest international standards three times since they were enacted in 1974, most recently last year.
“I can assure you we comply with all global standards- the same as in California and Japan, places well known for their high tectonic activity,” added Vargas.
About 500.000 American tourists travel to Costa Rica each year, according to the US State Department, adding to the tens of thousands of retirees who have relocated here. Choosing to live, work, and retire abroad always entails weighing pros and cons. But the stakes are higher when Mother Nature strikes in the form of hurricanes or earthquakes.
Most expatriates choose to stay put despite natural disasters, as will likely be the case of Costa Rica. In a way, many feel that the minor damage and clearly good constructions have made them feel more secure.