Wednesday 20 October 2021

The Tregynon man who survived the worst earthquake in Costa Rican history

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On May 4, 1910, the most destructive earthquake in the history of Costa Rica destroyed the city of Cartago. Such had been the devastation that even today none can be sure how many people died with records ranging from 400 to 700 people, the highest death toll for any quake in Costa Rican history.

Cartago earthquake in 1910. Picture: Geoengineer.

On that day, Cartago was destroyed for the second time, first time was September 2, 1841.

Among the survivors was a man from Tregynon, a small village, and community in Montgomeryshire, Powys, Wales, to the north of Newtown and southwest of Welshpool.

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Richard Corfield was residing in Cartago as an English language professor and wrote a desperate appeal home after admitting to “have lost all but my life.’

Corfield pleaded for financial help for himself and the survivors.

Cartago earthquake in 1910

He wrote to his father with the letter printed in the Montgomeryshire County Times on June 21, 1910.

He wrote:

“By a pure miracle I was saved.

“It is impossible for you to imagine our picture of the terrible destruction and the pitiful condition in which we have all been left as a consequence.

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“At present I am living on the charity of my friends.

“We lost everything but our lives and escaped with those miraculously.

“There is a terrible scarcity of everything, as the people have not been able to work. What we have to do for the moment is to cultivate a little, in order to have something to eat, or die.”

Corfield asked for friends to send money to help and revealed he had come to suffer sickness while the tremors continued weeks after the initial earthquake.

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More: Remembering The Limon Earthquake

He wrote:

“I have been very sick for some days after the disaster, on account of the terrible impressions, so much so that on the following day I was depositing pure blood.

“Please do not say you can do nothing over there, because we know that you can if you try.

“‘Sentiment and advice are useless to us at present.”

More than 150 earthquakes struck Costa Rica between April 13 and April 30 ahead of the May 4 earthquake when Richard and his fellow professors ‘lost everything in the space of 10 seconds’.

Corfield described the quake in his letter.

He wrote:

“The roofs of houses and walls, cut off at their base, all came down with an instantaneous crash and roar as of thunder, smashing glass, furniture, and the greater part of human beings that happened to be at that moment in their houses, stores, or on the sidewalks.

“A town of 10,000 voices, menaced by death and crazy with terror, filled the air with a mournful song of agony.

“The electric light went out in an instant, and complete darkness reigned over the horrible scene of destruction.

“The inhabitants crying to God for mercy and pardon of their sins, children clinging wildly at the arms and necks of their parents, forming a living tragedy so extraordinary that it would be impossible for the most vigorous pen to portray.

“Lying in a public square, we felt the earth move beneath us as if it were located on the surface of an ocean or on the back of an enormous serpent of indescribable fury.

“Two little children playing in the hall had time only to embrace one another, and in this beautiful posture, death had found them.

“In one of the principal business houses, the cashier was found with his pen in his hand. Death surprised a shoemaker with a hammer in hand and the sole of a shoe in his lap.

“Two nuns praying were found in that position. The immense tower of the church, El Carmen, was found upside down on the railway.”

Cartago earthquake in 1910

The Aguacaliente Fault, source of the Cartago 1910 destructive earthquake

On 4 May 1910, the most destructive earthquake in the history of Costa Rica (Ms 6.4) destroyed the city of Cartago, a major city located in the Valle Central of Costa Rica. Using both palaeo‐seismological and morphotectonic analyses, we have found evidence that points to the Aguacaliente Fault (AF) as the source of this earthquake.

This structure is a N100° E trending, strike‐slip fault situated to the south of Cartago and within a wide band of deformation. We excavated two trenches near Bermejo, south of Cartago. We found evidence of three surface ruptures within the last 1000 years on this fault. The age of the most recent rupture is consistent with the Cartago 1910 earthquake. The AF is a seismogenic source capable of producing large earthquakes (Mw 6.5–6.9) with an estimated recurrence interval of about 500 years. Read the full text at

List of earthquakes in Costa Rica

Click here for the list of notable earthquakes in the history of Costa Rica on Wikipedia.

The article includes a post from the and other sources, edited and adapted y the Q.

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