Powerful earthquake hits Hawaiian Islands

Widespread damage to roads, buildings

no deaths reported

October 16, 2006|By New York Times News Service

HONOLULU --A strong earthquake rippled through the Hawaiian Islands yesterday, shaking residents and tourists from their sleep, knocking out electrical power to several areas and triggering a landslide that rained boulders and other debris on the major highway of the largest island.

The U.S. Geological Survey said that the main quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.6 and that there had been at least a dozen aftershocks, including one that measured 5.8. Officials rated it the largest to hit Hawaii since a magnitude-6.7 quake struck in 1983.

Gov. Linda Lingle issued a disaster declaration yesterday afternoon and activated the National Guard, which happened to be conducting a statewide drill over the weekend. The governor ordered her Cabinet to convene at the headquarters of the Hawaii State Department of Civil Defense, which is in Diamond Head crater in Honolulu, the state capital on the island of Oahu.

There were no reports of deaths, but there were scores of unconfirmed reports of injuries. The governor said that there was widespread damage to buildings and roads. Kona Community Hospital on the island of Hawaii sustained significant damage, and patients were moved to the Sheraton Keauhou Hotel, officials said.

The lack of electricity hampered communications, and officials could not say exactly how severe the damage was or what the extent of injuries was.

The biggest quake, which was centered just off the northwest shore of the island of Hawaii, occurred at 7:07 a.m. local time officials said. That side of the island contains Kohala, a popular resort.

The quake and its aftershocks immediately set off fears of a tsunami. But the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a report saying that no tsunami was expected, although officials at the center warned of the possibility of significant wave activity in Hawaii.

Power was knocked out for hours in many areas, but by midafternoon, it had been restored to Hilo on the island of Hawaii and to parts of Maui.

Leonid Citer, 50, a photographer from Wayne, N.J., said in a telephone interview that he was on his way to photograph a wedding in Kona when the quake hit. He said he pulled to the side of the road when he felt the shock and debris began to rain down on the road.

"There are rocks and fruit all over the road," he said. "There are police and firemen at all the major intersections, and they were instructing people to go up as high as they can, elevation-wise, and they are advising them to stay away from the shore."

Emergency management officials also urged residents and others to stay put if they could, to keep roadways open for emergency vehicles.

Beth Chapman, who co-stars with her husband, Duane Chapman, on the A&E cable reality series Dog the Bounty Hunter, said she was at their home in the Portlock section of Oahu when the quakes hit.

"There were two quakes, one at 7:08 this morning and the second one at 7:12," she said in telephone interview. "I know because the clock stopped when the second one came.

"I was outside for the second one, and you could hear this strange noise coming from the ocean," Chapman said. "Then the ground shook, and there was a huge wave in our swimming pool."

Airports across the islands switched to emergency backup systems, which enabled inbound flights to land and a few outbound planes to depart. By midday, all flights out of the airports on Honolulu and Maui were canceled, as were flights to Hawaii from the U.S. mainland. At the airports still in operation, security officials checked luggage manually and agriculture agents used dogs to sniff packages and luggage because X-ray machines were without power.

Officials asked cruise ships to keep guests aboard, and cruise ships scheduled to make landfall in Hawaii were asked to head to their next location.

"We're are dealing with a lot of scared people," Harry Kim, mayor of Hawaii County, said in an interview on KITV-TV.

Lingle was on the island of Hawaii, staying at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, when the building rattled.

"It shook very strongly and knocked the televisions off the bureaus in the hotel," she said in an interview on KSSK Radio, one of the few broadcast outlets that was not knocked off the air. "TVs fell, books fell, mirrors fell off the wall."

Insurance industry experts said early reports suggested light damage to homes and businesses, and that the heaviest costs could result from power outages in Honolulu and on other islands.

The insurers offered no immediate estimates on economic damage, but Robert P. Hartwig, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute, said that payouts for damage from insurance companies for the earthquake probably would be "very modest," perhaps under $25 million, compared with $1.1 billion for one of the least-costly hurricanes last year, Hurricane Dennis, which hit Florida in June 2005.

The most costly earthquake in the United States, the Northridge temblor near Los Angeles in 1994, cost insurers up to $26 billion in today's dollars. It was measured at a magnitude of 6.7. By comparison, insurers paid out $41 billion last year for damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Hartwig said that probably no more than 25 percent of homeowners in Hawaii and fewer than 50 percent of businesses had purchased policies that pay for earthquake damage. Most damage from blackouts is not covered, he said.

"Right now, it does not look like there is substantial structural damage or major fires," he said. "And it looks like very modest costs to insurers. It could turn out to be higher if there is considerable damage to foundations and walls that is not immediately obvious."

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