Hundreds evacuated after Hawaii quake
HONOLULU (AP) – A strong earthquake shook Hawaii early Sunday, jolting residents out of bed and causing a landslide that blocked a major highway. Hundreds of hotel guests and hospital patients were evacuated, and aftershocks kept the state on edge.
Gov. Linda Lingle issued a disaster declaration for the state, saying there had been damage to buildings and roads. There were no reports of fatalities, but the state Civil Defense had several reports of minor injuries.
The quake hit at 7:07 a.m. local time, 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, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center, part of the U.S. Geological Survey.
The quake prompted fears of a tsunami, but forecasters quickly put those fears to rest, predicting only choppier-than-normal waves.
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. Experts said aftershocks could continue for weeks.
“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.”
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 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, Lingle said.
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.
A FEMA computer simulation of the 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.
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.
The quake affected travel plans for many visitors, though the state was in its low period of the tourism season. Airports were functioning despite the power outages, though travel was difficult and some flights were being canceled, officials said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Les Dorr said planes were arriving at Honolulu International Airport, but there were few departures. Dorr said the Transportation Security Administration 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 quake hit roughly 150 miles southwest of Honolulu’s Oahu Island, near a much less populated area. 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, though they have happened before. The region 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,” Waverly Person, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center.
The last Hawaiian earthquake this strong struck more than 20 years ago. The magnitude 6.7 caused heavy property damage on Hawaii Island and collapsed trails into a volcano in Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park on Nov. 16, 1983. A 6.1-magnitude quake also hit in 1989, according to the Earthquake Information Center.
Associated Press writers Audrey McAvoy, Tara Godvin, Mark Niesse and Jaymes Song in Hawaii and Leslie Miller in Washington contributed to this report.