Earthquake could ruin greater San José metro area

January 30, 2009

The 6.2 magnitude earthquake that recently devastated the northeastern periphery of the metropolitan area, killing up to 30 people, brought to mind a troubling possibility:

Had a similar quake occurred in the Central Valley, the death and destruction would have been much greater, according to geologists, engineers and even political leaders.

“If (the earthquake) had been in an important city, in an urban area, we wouldn´t be talking about a few victims but rather hundreds, if not thousands,” President Oscar Arias said.

More than half the country´s population, hospital beds and grade school students are in the greater metropolitan area, a 1,778-square-kilometer area that stretches roughly from Cartago in the east to Alajuela in the west, and from Moravia in the north to Aserrí in the south.

“A high-intensity earthquake here would be a real disaster,” said Andres Calvo, a national program officer for the Pan-American Health Organization. “We have a long way to go before we are able to withstand a 6.2 earthquake here.”

The last major quake to hit the Central Valley occurred in 1910 in Cartago, the old colonial capital east of San José. The quake virtually destroyed the city, killed up to 1,000 people and injured thousands.

Some scientists say that could happen again. Of Costa Rica´s 150 potentially active faults, about a third are located in the greater metropolitan area, according to Guillermo Alvarado at the Costa Rican Electricity Institute.

A strong quake in the Central Valley would be more devastating today than in 1910 because population density is much higher, said Walter Montero, a UCR geologist.

See this week´s print or digital edition of The Tico Times for more on this story.

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