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Costa Rica earthquake death toll rises to 15

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  • NEW: Rescuers trying to reach 300 tourists stranded in hotel
  • NEW: "I saw how the earth moved and how it took my family," survivor says
  • Reports on number of people killed in quake conflict; up to 42 may be missing
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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (CNN) -- The official count of confirmed deaths grew to 15 Friday afternoon, one day after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake shook north central Costa Rica, a government emergency official said.

Relatives of two girls who died Thursday in a quake in Costa Rica mourn their deaths.

iReporter Leonardo Diaz photographed the damage in Plaza Mayor Shopping Center in San Jose.

Reinaldo Carballo, a spokesman for the federal Commission for National Emergencies, said the updated death toll came from information given to the agency by Costa Rica Vice President Rodrigo Arias.

In addition, Carballo said, rescuers were trying to reach 300 tourists stranded in a hotel in Varablanca. Carballo said he did not know the tourists' nationalities or the name of the hotel.

There were conflicting reports on the number of dead from Thursday's earthquake. The Commission for National Emergencies had issued a news release earlier Friday saying the quake had killed four people.

Also earlier Friday, Red Cross official Milton Chaverri told CNN there were 14 dead and 22 missing. Red Cross spokeswoman Fiorella Vilca said Friday afternoon there were nine dead and 42 missing.

The discrepancy may result from the fact that the Commission for National Emergencies reports only deaths it has confirmed, Carballo said. About 32 people were injured, he said.

On Friday, the U.S. government dispatched a team of 34 U.S. military personnel and four helicopters from Honduras-based Joint Task Force-Bravo to Costa Rica to assist.

Survivors described the suddenness and brutality of the quake. Landslides, tumbling rocks and collapsed buildings caused widespread devastation and death.

"I saw how the earth moved and how it took my family -- my aunt, my cousin and her babies," Miguel Angel Marin told CNN affiliate Teletica TV. "It was very hard because I wanted to save them, but I couldn't."

A sobbing Vilma Cambronero was asked what happened to her family.

"Some are well," she said. "Others are buried."

An unidentified woman told Teletica, "Everything started to move and everything fell on top of us. It was a miracle we got out."

More than 1,200 people were stranded, without a way to get out of towns or homes, Chaverri said. Another 1,000 people were living in shelters, he said. Are you there? Send photos, video

"Many people were injured, many buildings were damaged and landslides blocked roads in the area," the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The dead included three young girls, officials said Friday.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez was scheduled to tour the affected area Friday. On Thursday, he appealed for calm.

The remote area near Alajuela, where the quake hit strongest, is difficult to reach, and officials said they were having to rely on helicopters for medical evacuations and to airlift supplies.

Randall Picado, a government rescue official, said many residents were without water and other necessities.

About 400 volunteers and Red Cross personnel were giving aid in 15 communities, Chaverri said.

The temblor was felt throughout Costa Rica and in southern and central Nicaragua, the U.S. Geological Survey reported on its Web site.

"I felt the earthquake," Costa Rican office worker Erick Solorzano told CNN in an iReport message. "I work in a sixth floor, and it was very strong. We felt the building was going to collapse."

About 2,000 aftershocks have been felt in San Jose, the capital, and other cities throughout the nation, Red Cross spokeswoman Vilca said.

The Geological Survey placed the earthquake's epicenter at 20 miles (32 kilometers) north-northwest of San Jose at a depth of 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers).

All About EarthquakesU.S. Geological SurveyCosta Rica

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