Three vacationing in Costa Rica report they were near epicenter.

Joan Ackerman, 79, Mary Stuermer, 87, and Irene Stevens, 84, of Cedar Crest retirement home in Pompton Plains, had just sat down to eat in a ramshackle roadside restaurant just north of San Jose in Costa Rica when their vacations were abruptly interrupted by a magnitude 6.1 earthquake that shook the country, killing at least 23 on Jan. 8.

The family-owned eatery was close to the epicenter of the earthquake, the Poas Volcano.

Calming the tourists

"The table, chair and floor was shaking and things were coming off the wall," Ackerman said, describing how the quake damaged the restaurant. "The windows exploded."

She said their tour guide came out and said, "'Everybody get out. There's no danger.' It was his way of calming the tourists."

The quake threw Stuermer to the floor.

"My table went, my chair went, and I went with it," Stuermer said.

Other tourists hid under their tables and took pictures of people's feet. But all she could do was focus on staying upright.

"During an earthquake, you have no time to think about anything," Ackerman said.

Learned of mudslide

She said the worst part for her was when she got outside and gathered in a clear and open area.

"I had a visceral reaction to the aftershocks," she said.

They witnessed a piece of mountain fall and later learned the mudslide had buried two young girls, Stuermer said.

Stuermer also described severely damaged homes with doors that had become unhinged.

Children were clinging to adults, she said.

The vacation was otherwise pleasant and uninterrupted. Ackerman said she saw some evidence of small landslides along the roadsides. Their Mercedes Benz tour bus had to take a four-hour detour to avoid severely damaged parts of the country.

Visited rainforest

They stayed in solidly build hotels, Ackerman said. They went into the rainforest, onto a zip line, and went snorkeling. Ackerman said they also learned about the country's economics.

At least seven people were listed as missing when Costa Rican authorities called off the search for victims of the earthquake on Jan. 19, Reuters reported.

The three are safely at home in Cedar Crest retirement community in Pompton Plains.