... Natural Phenomena: Earthquakes, floods, etc. ...
by Infocostarica Staff
Some people that don't live in California or in an area stricken by earthquakes believe that they might die in the first earthquake that they experience in a seismically-active country like Costa Rica. Of course that terrible tragedies have occurred in any country where the forces of nature are extremely active, but tourists must realize that even in regions like these, natural occurrences rarely turn out to be catastrophes.
Costa Rica is a natural bridge between North and South America. The natural forces that created it are still at work, especially since the country is geologically speaking, only three million years old (very young for geological standards). The frequent earthquakes are caused by the collision and movement of the two main tectonic plates around Costa Rica: the Cocos plate (Pacific) and the Atlantic plate. Seismic waves are caused when the friction between plates can't accumulate further and must be released. Small-scale tremors and earthquakes are common and extremely harmless, but srong earthquakes occur less often. The earthquake that occurred on the 22 of april of 1991 was the last serious seismic catastrophe, and it measured 7.4 on the Reichter scale. The Atlantic zone of the country, its buildings, roads and even coral reefs, suffered great damage, but the other regions of Costa Rica weren't affected. This earthquake left 27 people dead, 400 injured and 13,000 homeless in the Limon province (Atlantic). The threat of small or big earthquakes is responsible for the creation of preventive building measures that are strictly followed in high population areas, like the capital city of San Jose. These measures can save many lives in future catastrophes.
Another geological form that's present in Costa Rica, is the volcano. Costa Rican volcanoes belong to the Pacific Rim of Fire that spreads throughout the Pacific coast of America. The last big eruption occurred in 1963, in the Irazu volcano; after a twenty year rest, the volcano erupted clouds of smoke and ash that kept showering over San Jose and other parts for two years. My parents and people of her generation tell stories of walking around with handkerchiefs and of sweeping the sidewalks every day and the roof, so that it wouldn't collapse from the weight of the ash and mud! Costa Rica has seven active volcanoes and sixty dormant or extinct volcanoes. Most volcanoes seem to be peaceful mountains that adorn the landscape.
Another source of natural occurrences and catastrophes is much less exotic than seismic plates or magma: common rain. However, as common as it might seem, rain in tropical countries like Costa Rica can cause disasters. Costa Rica is situated in tropical latitudes, which means that it only has two seasons- rainy and dry. The rainy season occurs from May to November and the dry season from December to April. The average of the yearly precipitation is 100 inches nationwide. However, there are regions that are consistently much drier than others. The excess of rain in extremely humid areas or even in dry areas, where the soil can't handle the amount of water, can cause floods that ruin crops, houses and even cause deaths. Droughts on the other hand, can also produce tremendous damage to people and to their crops and animals. The common areas where floods and landslides occur are located in the Atlantic, whereas the region that suffers from droughts is located on the Northern Pacific section of the country.
Hurricanes, although not common, can occurr, and are due mostly to large natural phenomena that affect a large area. Hurricanes like Andrew, Mitch and others, can cause as much damage in Costa Rica as in any other country, depending on whether they pass right over it or if they stay off the coast. The last few hurricanes have caused weather variations like intense rains, but otherwise, they haven't caused much damage in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, neighboring countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras haven't been as lucky.
Costa Rica has been blessed with biological diversity, which in part is due to its geological and geographical variety. The geological activity in the country can lead to natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes, eruptions or floods, but large-scale disasters aren't common and shouldn't interfere with the decision of coming to Costa Rica. The government has one of the best preventive plans in the region, and the media warns and informs people of potential dangers due to natural forces.