The Universidad Nacional Costa Rica's observatory gave the quake a magnitude of 6.9.
There have been no immediate reports of deaths or injuries, but the tremor sent people rushing outside in panic.
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Firefighters in Jaco said there were no reports of victims or major damage, but said there were some electrical poles that had come loose and fallen. The government reported some rockslides obstructing highways near the epicenter.
The quake, initially measured as much as 6.8 magnitude, was centered 69 kilometers (43 miles) southwest of San Jose at a depth of 20 km (12.3 miles), the USGS said.
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The natural disaster was at a depth of about 12 miles. "All of our neighbours were in the street".
Costa Rica President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera said that the country's authorities were working to gather information about the quake and said that preventive measures would be taken to deal with the impact of the incident. He urged people to remain calm and prepare for aftershocks.
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