Hawaiians reeling from strong earthquake
HONOLULU - Aftershocks kept Hawaiians on edge following the strongest earthquake in more than two decades, a 6.6-magnitude quake that caused blackouts, landslides and prompted vacationers to flee their hotels.
There were no reports of fatalities, but the state Civil Defense had several reports of minor injuries. Gov. Linda Lingle issued a disaster declaration for the state.
The quake hit at 7:07 a.m. local time Sunday, 10 miles north-northwest of Kailua-Kona, a town on the west coast of Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island, said Don Blakeman of the National Earthquake Information Center, part of the U.S. Geological Survey.
"We were rocking and rolling," said Anne LaVasseur, who was on the second floor of a two-story, wood-framed house on the east side of the Big Island when the temblor struck. "I was pretty scared. We were swaying back and forth, like King Kong's pushing your house back and forth."
Lingle, who was in a hotel near the epicenter of the quake 10 miles northwest of Kailua-Kona, said the most serious injury reported to her was a broken arm.
The Pacific Tsunami Center reported a preliminary magnitude of 6.5, while the U.S. Geological Survey gave a preliminary magnitude of 6.6.
The earthquake was followed by several strong aftershocks, including one measuring a magnitude of 5.8, the Geological Survey said. Forecasters said there was no danger of a tsunami, though choppier-than-normal waves were predicted.
The quake caused statewide power outages, and phone communication was possible, but difficult. The outages were caused because power plants turned off automatically when built-in seismic monitors were triggered by the earthquake.
Some power had been restored late Sunday in Maui, parts of Honolulu and other places, but many remained in the dark. All electricity systems needed to be rebooted, which was expected to take several hours in more populated areas like Honolulu.
"I don't mind a clean up, because it could have been a lot worse," said Chris Bair, the owner of Killer Tacos, which had tiles tumble from its ceiling. "We're glad everybody is OK."
Kona Community Hospital on the western side of Big Island was evacuated after ceilings collapsed and power was cut off, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
At least 10 acute care patients were being evacuated across the island to a medical center in Hilo, said Terry Lewis, spokeswoman for the hospital. About 30 nursing care patients were being moved temporarily to a nearby conference center, she said.
"We were very lucky that no one got hurt," said Lewis.
Mayor Harry Kim estimated that as many as 3,000 people were evacuated from three hotels on the Big Island. Brad Kurokawa, Hawaii County deputy planning director, confirmed the hotels were damaged, but could not say how many people had left. They were being taken to a gymnasium until alternate accommodations could be found, he said.
The earthquake caused water pipes to explode at Aston Kona By The Sea, a condominium resort, creating a dramatic waterfall down the front of the hotel from the fourth floor, said Kenneth Piper, who runs the front desk.
"You could almost see the cars bouncing up and down in the parking garage," Piper said.
The USGS said Hawaii's largest quake on record was an 1868 magnitude-7.9 earthquake that triggered a tsunami and spawned numerous landslides that resulted in 31 deaths. The last strongest temblor was in 1983, registering a magnitude 6.7.
A FEMA computer simulation of the latest quake estimated that as many as 170 bridges on the Big Island could have suffered damage in the temblor, said Bob Fenton, FEMA director of response for the region. More than 50 federal officials were en route to the Big Island to assess damage and begin recovery work, he said.
Lingle told radio station KSSK that she toured the Kona area by helicopter to view the damage, including earth falling into Kealakekua Bay.
"You could see the water was turning brown," said Lingle.
On Hawaii Island, there was some damage in Kailua-Kona and a landslide along a major highway, said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Center. Officials also said there were reports of people trapped in elevators in Oahu.
In Waikiki, one of the state's primary tourism areas on Oahu, worried visitors began lining up outside convenience stores to purchase food, water and other supplies. Managers were letting tourists into the darkened stores one at a time.
Karie and Bryan Croes waited an hour to buy bottles of water, chips and bread.
"It's quite a honeymoon story," said Karie, as she and her husband sat in lounge chairs surrounded by grocery bags beside a pool at ResortQuest Waikiki Beach Hotel.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Les Dorr said planes were arriving at Honolulu International Airport, but there were few departures. Security checkpoints were without power, so screeners were screening passengers and baggage manually.
Resorts in Kona were asked to keep people close to hotels, Kim told television station KITV. Cruise ships were told to keep tourists on board, and ships that were due to dock were asked to move on to their next location, he said.
"We are dealing with a lot of scared people," he said.
The Big Island has about 167,000 people, according to a 2005 Census estimate, and many of them live in and around Hilo, on the opposite site from where the quake was centered.
Earthquakes in the 6.0 magnitude range are rare in the region, which more commonly sees temblors in the 3- and 4-magnitude range caused by volcanic activity.
"We think this is a buildup from many volcanic earthquakes that they've had on the island," said Waverly Person, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
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