DRAKE BAY – When Minor Morales moved his boat from the lagoon of the Agujas River out into the Osa Peninsula’s Drake Bay for the night, he reckoned the Pacific Costa Rica tsunami alert was another prudent and precautionary warning that would not produce a wave here. Even after people told him that the wave was not very big in Hawaii, he noticed strange surges and tide levels starting in the late afternoon and decided to stay vigilant. The last two tsunami warnings for Costa Rica’s Pacific coast turned out to be alerts but with no widely known effects. This time was different.
Morales went back to the lagoon to help other boat owners, who chided him about his caution, to watch over their moored vessels.
Captain Morales’ instincts and an alert maintained by the U.S. proved valid, as late on March 11 a powerful surge did hit from one end of the Pacific coast to the other. Morales said that about 11 p.m. the lagoon suddenly emptied much further than the already near low-tide level, until boats rested on the sand and rocks. Then a very fast, powerful surge filled the lagoon, sinking two boats from Drake Bay Resort and breaking around 10 others off their moorings, scattering them around the lagoon.
At least 12 boats were damaged by the surge, apparently generated by the giant tsunami waves of Japan’s earthquake. A group of local residents helped gain control of the boats. The men worked all night because powerful and erratic surges washed into the lagoon for the rest of the night, banging around boats until after dawn.
Reports of strong surges have come in from Guanacaste to Pavones, seemingly all from people whose lives are connected to the ocean. From the Flamingo Marina coast guard to Pavones surfers to Nicoya Peninsula fishermen, unprecedented erratic surges and tides washed the Pacific coast for days after the event.
In Drake Bay, high and low tides have no longer corresponded to normally very accurate tide charts. The sea’s rhythms and levels, formally quite predictable, had still not returned to normal on Wednesday afternoon, although there were no reports of dangerous conditions.
“We were lucky the wave came in at low tide, if it had been a high tide, the surge would have hit hotels and houses,” Morales said.
One the other side of the Osa, in 1854, a tsunami wave wiped out the first big town of the peninsula, Villa Golfo Dulce. The wave was so devastating that today no one seems sure exactly where the town was, and many people who live here have never heard of it.
Perhaps a national alert system that incorporated information from people who work on the ocean would help prevent tsunami wave damage in the future.