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(506) 2223-1327        Published Friday, Jan. 9, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 6       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Emergency commission hit by blast and fire
Death toll from quake put at 15

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(Posted at 3:25 p.m.)

An explosion ripped through a storage room at the national emergency commission building this afternoon, and the entire structure was reported in flames with large columns of black smoke rising from the site.

Meanwhile, the official death toll for Thursday's earthquake has risen to 15.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez was on the scene when the explosion took place after having finished a tour of areas affected by the earthquake. But he was unhurt, and there were no injuries as a result of the blast and subsequent fire, according to the emergency commission chief.

The storage unit belongs to what is called the Comisión Nacional de Prevención  de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. This is the agency in charge of dealing with the results of the earthquake and whatever other national disasters would take place.  It is located at the San Jose's secondary
 airport, Tobias Bolaños, in the western suburb of Pavas. The storage unit is a separate building.

The airport is used heavily by local flights, including those for tourists. The fire and smoke are expected to hamper air operations.

Daniel Gallardo, emergency commission chief, said the storage building fire was caused by a  welder whose sparks ignited a foam mattress. The sprawling building is full of such mattresses that are used in emergency operations.

Gallardo also confirmed the number of dead from the quake without giving details.

He also said that with 50 helicopter flights into and out of the areas most affected by the earthquake, all who wanted to leave have been airlifted. He said that included the injured and many tourists who were trapped when landslides closed access roads. Many were in the vicinity of the La Paz Waterfalls Gardens which is in Vara Blanca, north of Heredia and Alajuela centros.

Earlier story below.

quake montage
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguirdad Pública/Humberto Ballestero
Landslides dot the landscape near Vara Blanca and some structures collapsed
Quake reveals itself as a major national disaster
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas,
Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What appeared at first to be another routine earthquake has fast become a national emergency.

The Cruz Roja said Thursday night that more than 300 persons have been injured and that eight persons have died. Individuals remain trapped in workplaces, vehicles, buses and hotels, and some will have to be airlifted to safety this morning.

More stories and photos . . . HERE!
Yesterday's story . . . HERE!

Some 18 persons, mostly U.S. tourists, were taken by air Thursday afternoon from the Vara Blanca area near the quake epicenter. Some suffered fractures.  Many more tourists are believed trapped at hotels because landslides have blocked access.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez will tour the most hard hit area today. Meanwhile, U.S. aircraft from a base in Honduras are expected today to help with the transportation of the injured and the trapped.

Janina Del Vecchio, the security minister, ordered 600 Fuerza Pública officers, including cadets, into special duty in affected parts of the country. The  Unidad de Zapadores of the Fuerza Pública was ordered to San Pedro de Poás, at the presumed epicenter. These are the sapper officers who are skilled in excavation, mountain rescues and other difficult tasks.

Police were reinforced at Fraijanes, Vara Blanca, Toro Amarillo, San Carlos, Sarapiquí as well as Cartago, where several homes have collapsed.

The 1:21 p.m. quake has been assessed at 6.2 magnitude. Because the location is close to the Volcán Poás, some residents are worried about a major volcanic eruption even though geological experts say that there is no connection. The area where the quake struck, northeast of the city of Alajuela and northwest of Heredia centro, has suffered sharp quakes in the past.

Much of the damage came from homes tumbling down a slope after the ground gave way. Highways, too, were affected by a number of landslides. The San José-Guápiles Ruta 32 is closed and some motorists are having to spend the night in their vehicles because they are hemmed in by landslides. A Caribbean bus with 40 passengers also was trapped there. A security airplane crew reported it saw a bus halfway down a slope but was unable to provide help.

Daniel Gallardo, head of the national emergency commission, said that two girls, 4 and 7, died near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui some distance from the epicenter. They were caught in a landslide.

It was in Carrizal de Alajuela, north and slightly west of the epicenter where a 14-year-old girl, identified as Anamaría Rodríguez Picado, died as her home tumbled down a slope and was reduced to a pile of lumber and tin.

Late Thursday night the Cruz Roja in Heredia reported that five persons, including four members of the same family, died when homes collapsed in El Roble de Santa Bárbara de Heredia.

The La Paz Waterfalls Gardens is in Vara Blanca, which is why so many tourists were affected by
the quake. Gallardo said that about 200 were
epicenter of quake
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Epicenter is near the major population centers

trapped in the Hotel La Paz because slides had destroyed the roads.  In Cariblanco, 10 persons
were trapped in a the cafeteria of a food factory because the access roads had collapsed, the Cruz Roja said, adding that perhaps as many as 1,000 persons were similarly cut off all over the country.

Some areas near the quake lost electrical, water and telephone service. Elsewhere the phone lines were saturated by worried callers all afternoon and evening.

Fear was a dominate factor as more than 250 felt aftershocks rolled through the country. In the immediate area of the quake, residents were planning on staying out of their homes overnight because of the aftershocks which were assessed as high as 4.0 magnitude. Victor González, director of the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica, said the aftershocks could continue for a week or more.

Fear was not confined to rural Heredia and Alajuela provinces near the epicenter. Office workers and store employees in San José and other Central Valley towns filled the streets after the quake hit. Most stayed outside, enjoying a sunny day. Stores closed and most offices never reopened.

In some cases there was good reason. Centro Colón on Paseo Colón in downtown San José may have suffered serious structural damage to some upper floors. Hospital México had almost all of its first floor windows blown out by the quake, and there was damage on other floors. On the third floor there were leaks of oxygen and gas. A team from the hospital and firemen were assessing the damage Thursday afternoon.  The hospital was involved in what administrators called internal evacuation, that is moving patients and staff to secure locations within the building.

There were reports of some damage to structures in The Forum office park in Santa Ana. A building on the pedestrian boulevard in downtown San José was roped off by police, and streets were closed for several blocks on either side of the walkway. A crack appeared in the side of an Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad building in the downtown.  By 5 p.m. the city had more than 90 percent of its offices and businesses closed.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias reported it has no estimate of total damage, but the amount is likely to be significant. Some bridges have collapsed and a number of roadways have either slide downhill or have been covered with slides from above.

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Costa Rica condemns firing
rockets into northern Israel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has condemned the launching of missiles against northern Israel from Lebanon as something that aggravates the tensions there and impedes efforts to negotiate a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

The statement by the foreign ministry said it repudiated the attacks against innocent civilians and for the risk of increasing violence and tensions. At the same time the statement called for a cease fire in Gaza.
Terrorists in Lebanon launched three Katusha rockets into northern Israel Thursday morning, and one of them hit a retirement home. Two residents were injured. The attacks are believed to come from elements of Hezbolla which fought Israel in the summer of 2006. Israel is fighting Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

PriceSmart posts gains
for first quarter sales

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

PriceSmart, Inc. said it had a 21.8 percent increase in sales during the first quarter of fiscal year 2009 which ended Nov. 30. The firm has stores in Costa Rica.

For the first quarter of fiscal year 2009, net warehouse sales increased to $298.5 million from $245.2 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2008, the company said.  Total revenue for the first quarter was $305.2 million compared to $250.4 million in the prior year.  The company said it had 25 outlets in operation as of Nov. 30, 2008, compared to 24 outlets in November 2007.

The company recorded operating income in the quarter of $14.9 million, compared to operating income of $10.2 million in the prior year.  Net income was $10.7 million, in the first quarter of fiscal 2009 compared to $6.7 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2008.
Our readers' opinions
Suggestion of terrorist impact
makes Limón man unhappy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Thanks to Marc Schweitzer, president of Costa Rica Mortgage S.A. in Escazú, I started the day out with an accelerated heart rate, a general tenseness, mild rage and the need to address his compassionate words: "If he [Biden] and I [the esteemed Schweitzer?] are correct and Hamas/Al Qaeda wreak some havoc in the Northeast, the C.R. market will boom like never before," said Schweitzer."

No one I know could have said it better and laid bare for the public readership of A.M. Costa Rica to see such a cold, crass, calculating desire! Mr. Schweitzer, maybe you could retire in 6 months if your ticket to Nirvana really kicked into high gear and we saw simultaneous attacks in....let's say..YOUR HOMETOWN. You know, the place where your family lives, works and plays. The neighborhood where your kids go to school! The rest home where your parents or grandparents reside!

Let me fancy a guess; You have no children, brothers, sisters, mother or father currently alive in the U. S., right?

If I am wrong, you surely have fallen off the deep end. As one who *does* have family in the Northeast, I wish you all the luck in this world with your mortgage business and may it fall off the end of the earth before the rest of us do.

With No Respect,
Dennie Sartuga

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Schweitzer was stating a hard fact, not cheering on terrorists.

Colorado reader says
Chávez reporting bad

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

On Thursday you reported as fact:  "(Hugo) Chávez also is the darling of the U.S. Left because of his opposition to President George Bush." 

Simply because Noam Chomsky is willing to point out and criticize overreaching on the part of a non-governmental organization does not make Hugo Chávez "the darling of the U.S. Left" because he opposes George Bush. 

As far as I can tell, just about everyone opposes George Bush.  The U.S. Left has not made darlings of Chávez, Ahmadinejad, bin Laden, Kim Jong-il, Robert Mugabe, or any other totalitarian leader simply because of their opposition to the unilateralist policies of the outgoing U.S. President. 

Moreover, it is important to "know your enemy" not simply publish bloated, critical reports about him.  Accuracy in intelligence and popular reporting is a virtue which strengthens everyone's hand. 

Inaccuracy is simply propaganda, and leads, as we saw in Iraq, and as both Bush and VP Cheney have now publicly admitted, to bad decision making.  It appears from your article that Chomsky and others have identified bad reporting bordering on propaganda from a biased source, Human Rights Watch, which is otherwise well regarded. 

Their motivation appears to be to set the record straight and apprehend the downfall of the reputation of a generally reliable source.  This does not make Chávez the darling of anybody.  Truthful reporting is the goal.   If Chávez is a mad man, let the real facts speak for themselves.

Greg Russi
New Castle, Colorado

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 6

people on street
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo workers wait out aftershocks in San Jose's Barrio Amón
Arias will tour the affected areas with his staff today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez said Thursday that he would lead a government team to the area of the earthquake epicenter today to see first hand the consequences.

The visit will start at San Pedro de Poás, which is presumed to be at the epicenter of the 6.2 magnitude Thursday earthquake. At a press conference Thursday night Arias characterized Costa Rica as a country with a big history of earthquakes and asked that the public remain calm.

Arias was out of the country when major flooding hit the Caribbean coast and the northern zone at the end of November. And some suggested that he should have cut short his trip.

Arias said that the government was doing all it could do to lessen the impact of the event and that it would channel resources to help. "Today is a day of mourning for Costa Rica," Arias said, speaking of the heavy financial lost and the three deaths of children that were known as he spoke.

As expected, Arias said that he would issue a decree of emergency today after he and his staff learn the full extent of the damage to homes and infrastructure. The decree is a way that the government has to get all the agencies and dependencies to raise additional cash for needed repairs.
Aris brothers
A.M. Costa Rica/josé Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Rodrigo Arias Sánchez sits with his brother, the president, at a press conference at the national emergency commission.

At least 42 communities suffered some form of damage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national emergency commission said that the districts hardest hit by Thursday's quake were Poasito, Sarapiquí, Río Cuarto, Heredia centro, Vara Blanca, Dulce Nombre de San Isidro and Sabana Redonda de Poás de Alajuela.

In all, there were 42 communities that suffered damage, the commission said.

The commission said that persons were injured in Vara Blanca, Cedral, Carrizal and Los Cartagos.  Also there were reports of damage in Alajuela Centro, Cinchona de Sarapiquì, Catarata de Vara Blanca, Los Guido de Patarra, Sabanilla de Montes de Oca, Dulce Nombre de San Isidro and in Tacacori de Alajuela.

Later the Cruz Roja reported that five deaths had occurred in el Roble de Santa Bárbara. Two girls had been reported to have been killed by a landslide earlier in Cinchona, and a 14-year-old died when a house collapsed in Carrizal.

David Meléndez, emergency director for the transport ministry said that from Heredia in the south to Vara Blanca to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui in the north a helicopter crew Thursday afternoon counted between 25 and 30 landslides.

He confirmed that a bridge over the Río Ángel, the locally known Salto de Ángel, had fallen due to the movement of earth. He estimated that officials would need three to four days to learn the magnitude of the damages.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was 35 kilometers (22 miles) northwest of San José. The exact estimated coordinates were 10.22 degrees north and 84.28 degrees west, said the survey. The event was estimated to be 28 kilometers (about 17 miles) deep.

Costa Rican sources put the epicenter at about 10 kilometers or 6 miles east of Volcán Poás in an area close to the border between the province of Alajuela and the province of Heredia. Much of the damage took place there, but there also was damage in San José and other Central Valley towns.

The nearby community of El Roble de Santa Bárbara was the only place that the emergency commission had set up a shelter. Five persons, including parents and two children, died in that community in a building collapse, and about 80 residents were evacuated to a more sturdy structure, according to the Cruz Roja in Heredia.

Costa Rica is vulnerable to quakes because the topography is rugged with deep ravines and steep hillsides. That is one reason the main highway from San José to Guápiles suffered a number of slides and is usually closed as heavy rains hit.

In the central mountains of Costa Rica highways are carved into the steep hillsides vulnerable to sliding downwards or being covered with rock and mud. Homeowners frequently perch their dwellings on a ridge to take advantage of the view, but when heavy rains or a quake comes, the earth gives way and the home crashes down the hill.

quake montage
Emergency worker studies site . . . Firemen prepare to inspect Hospital México. . . Hospital patients await word

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 6

How to define the year and yourself with just one word
My daughter gave me an interesting exercise, something a member of her writers’ group does at the beginning of each New Year.  The idea is to come up with a one word description of last year (either personal or global, I suppose) and another for yourself for the coming year. This makes a stimulating change from the usual New Year’s resolutions one makes in January, year after year — usually the same ones.  I stopped doing that a long time ago.  Nor do I give up anything for Lent anymore.  Life takes care of that.  When I quit smoking, I did so in order to be a nonsmoker on my birthday, so I quit in September, knowing it would take at least five months to succeed. 

Now that I think about it, perhaps it is more daunting to choose a word rather than a resolution, after all, “In the beginning was the word.”

January is not only a time for new beginnings and words, it evidently is a predictive month.  The ups and downs of the Wall Street stock market during the month of January supposedly predict its journey for the rest of the year.  In Costa Rica, the first 12 days of January are supposed to predict the weather for the coming 12 months.  If that is so, it is going to be sunny, windy, and partly cloudy, and the rainy season will begin in early May.

It is doubtful that these predictions will be successful this year given the recent cataclysmic events in the financial world (which is our world, too), and the dire warnings about global warming. Personally I feel we are experiencing the beginning of another Ice Age — this past year has been the coldest I have known since coming to Costa Rica.

Nevertheless, it was one of the best holiday seasons I have enjoyed in years — more active with dinners and friends and games. Perhaps that is why while I hear that everyone who is anyone began 2009 “hitting the ground running,” I started the New Year hitting the ground idling.  I just can’t get into gear and going after all that food fun and games.

Then my daughter came up with her idea.

The global events of last year overshadowed, my own life, so my word for 2008 was ‘Collapse.”  My more personal word for 2009 is “Move.”
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

“Move,” with its various meanings, has been at the front of my mind since then, but it was not until Jan. 6 that I began to think about more than just moving away from my computer, or changing the location of my herbs and spices.

Walking has been my mode of transportation for years.  I’m not good at walking just for exercise.  When I lived on the east side of town it was a less than a 20-minute walk to the center of the city — all of it downhill.  Walking in the city always gave me ideas to write about.  Walking in the area of the Sabana has not done that.  But, think of “Move,” off I went on Wednesday, deciding to go to the bank the long way. 

Walking along the park I saw something I had not seen before — a children’s educational park.  There was no one there and I couldn’t enter because it was fenced in and locked.  But I noticed that there were paved paths and five traffic lights at an intersection. 

What a good idea, I thought.  Teaching children street safety can save lives — and here the lights can be confusing because most are aimed only at streets, not sidewalks.  As I crossed the street (waiting for the green light) to go to my bank, I thought, wouldn’t it also be a good idea for the bank to put a mini cashier and teller in the park and teach children about saving money. 

After I deposited my check and transferred some money, I sat in the bank wondering to whom I would tell my suggestion or should I?  As I thought through how I would word this suggestion, it occurred to me that the bank might take up my idea but first teach children how to use their credit and debit cards.  And one year in the future there would be another “Collapse” year.  Best to leave well enough alone and just move on.

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A.M. Costa Rica

users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

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Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

U.S. salesman admits bribes
to many foreign officials

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A former executive of an Orange County, Calif.-based valve company pleaded guilty Thusday in connection with his role in a conspiracy to pay approximately $1 million in bribes to numerous foreign government officials, said the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mario Covino, 44, an Italian citizen and resident of Irvine, Calif., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, Calif., to a one-count information charging him with conspiring to make corrupt payments to foreign government officials for the purpose of securing business for the Orange County valve company. The charge involved business with from state-owned enterprises in several countries, including Brazil, China, India, Korea, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

According to court documents, the valve company designed and manufactured service control valves for use in the nuclear, oil and gas, and power generation industries worldwide.  Covino was the director of worldwide factory sales at the valve company from March 2003 through August 2007.  In this position, Covino was responsible for overseeing new construction projects and the replacement of existing valves made by other companies and installed at customer plants in more than 30 countries.   

In connection with his guilty plea, Covino admitted that from March 2003 through August 2007, he caused employees and agents of the valve company to make corrupt payments totaling approximately $1 million to foreign officials employed at state-owned enterprises in order to assist in obtaining and retaining business for the valve company. 

Covino also admitted that the valve company earned approximately $5 million in profits from the contracts it obtained as a result of these corrupt payments.  According to the court documents, the corrupt payments were made to foreign officials at state-owned entities including, but not limited to, Petrobras (Brazil), Dingzhou Power (China), Datang Power (China), China Petroleum, China Resources Power, China National Offshore Oil Company, PetroChina, Maharashtra State Electricity Board (India), KHNP (Korea), Petronas (Malaysia), Dolphin Energy (United Arab Emirates) and Abu Dhabi Company for Oil Operations (United Arab Emirates).

Covino also admitted to providing false and misleading responses to internal auditors during a 2004 internal audit of the company’s commission payments, and to deleting e-mails and instructing others to delete e-mails that referred to corrupt payments, for the purpose of obstructing the internal audit.

As part of his plea agreement, Covino has agreed to cooperate with the Department in its ongoing investigation. At sentencing, scheduled for July 20, Convino faces a maximum of five years in prison.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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