SAN SALVADOR –– A strong earthquake off the Pacific Coast of Central America shook the region on Thursday just as a hurricane barreled into the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but there were no immediate reports of any quake damage.
Emergency services in El Salvador said on Twitter it had received no reports of damage at a national level, but urged those living along the country’s Pacific coast to withdraw up to one kilometre away from the shore.
The 7.0 magnitude quake, initially reported as a magnitude 7.2, was very shallow at 10.3 kilometres below the seabed, which would have amplified its effect.
Its epicenter was located some 149 km south-southwest of Puerto Triunfo in El Salvador, according to the US Geological Survey.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre warned that tsunami waves of up to one metre (three feet) could hit the Pacific coasts of Nicaragua and El Salvador after the quake, but later said that available data showed the threat had passed.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega declared a state of emergency due to the quake and Hurricane Otto, which landed on the country’s southeastern coast earlier on Thursday, his spokeswoman said.
“We were serving lunch to the lawmakers and the earthquake started and we felt that it was very strong,” said Jacqueline Najarro, a 38-year-old food seller at the Congress in San Salvador. “We were scared.”
Earlier on Thursday, the Category 2 Hurricane Otto hit land near the southeastern coast of Nicaragua, where thousands had already been evacuated away from vulnerable coastal areas and into shelters.
Authorities in Nicaragua said Otto had damaged houses and toppled trees, but so far there were no reports of casualties. Earlier, heavy rains from the storm were blamed for three deaths in Panama.
Otto battered Nicaragua’s Corn Islands with 3.5-metre waves and damaged houses but residents were all safe in refuges, said the archipelago mayor, Cleveland Rolando Webster.
“There is a lot of rain, the sea is rough and the wind is strong. We have been in danger all night, getting cold and wet,” said Alicia Lampson, 21, as she arrived at a shelter with a group of people from the village of Monkey Point, south of Bluefields, Nicaragua.
The US National Hurricane Centre said the unusually strong late-season hurricane hit land just north of the Costa Rican border near the town of San Juan de Nicaragua with winds of 175 kph. The center said Otto’s winds later weakened to 155 kph as it moved inland near the border with Costa Rica.
Otto was forecast to move across southern Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica, weakening to a tropical storm by Thursday night.
The Nicaraguan government declared a state of emergency, and said evacuations would continue because of the continued risk of flooding.