Fragile, historic structures in Hawaii damaged by quake

Assessment under way at palace

16th-century temple walls crumbled

October 19, 2006|By Sam Howe Verhovek | Sam Howe Verhovek,LOS ANGELES TIMES

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- Resorts, airports and much else about Hawaiian island life were back to normal this week, days after a magnitude-6.7 earthquake struck just off Hawaii Island.

But for some of the Big Island's most historic - and fragile - structures, the quake's effects were not so quickly overcome.

"We didn't fare well at all," said Fanny AuHoy, administrator of the two-story Hulihe'e Palace, built of coral, lava rock and native wood in 1838 for the Hawaiian royal family.

"This building has withstood other earthquakes, hurricanes and big storms. But this damage is really bad."

Huge cracks were evident inside and outside the building, and several large chunks of plaster had fallen from the ceilings of the palace, which is run by the Daughters of Hawaii and includes items dating to what some native Hawaiians call "pre-contact days" - before Westerners showed up on the islands.

Major damage

The palace was among a dozen or so historic structures, all on the Big Island, where major quake damage was reported.

"We were very relieved that there was no loss of life" in the quake, said Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawai'i Foundation, a Honolulu-based nonprofit that is tracking the damages.

But, Faulkner said, "we are concerned about the loss of the historic fabric in west Hawaii Island." Moreover, she said, "we are urging people not to make any hasty decisions about demolition or replacement."

In Kealakowa, some of the 14-foot-tall temple walls, or heiau, built by chief Umi Ai Liloa in the 16th century crumbled. "I'm devastated," said Jo-Anne Kahanamoku, curator of the heiau.

At the Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, also on the western side of the Big Island, Chief Ranger Ben Saludo said there was extensive damage.

"It is an incredibly significant site in Hawaii history," said Saludo, who said the heiau there was built in 1790 by Kamehameha I, the ruler who succeeded in uniting the Hawaiian islands. "It is really the site of the founding of his kingdom. Without this temple, there wouldn't have been a Hawaiian monarchy."

Royal figures ruled Hawaii until the late 19th century, when Hawaii was annexed as a U.S. territory. Kamehameha is still an honored figure in Hawaii, and AuHoy, the palace administrator, said the palace there and two others on Oahu remained of considerable historical significance since they are among the few royal palaces built anywhere on American soil.

At the Hulihe'e Palace site, on Kailua Bay, the building was closed to tourists, pending a structural damage assessment. Some historic items, such as writing desks used by Queen Kapi'olani and Princess Ruth, were also damaged.

Each of the six rooms in the palace had some visible damage, but AuHoy said she was hopeful the structure could be restored. "We're hoping that it's mainly cosmetic," she said. "I don't know where we'd get the money for a major renovation."

The palace was built in 1838 by Gov. John Adams Kuakini, who is described in a historical marker here as a companion of Kamehameha and "one of the first chiefs to take up Western ways."

Among other structures damaged in Sunday's quake were two other sets of temple walls; a few older churches in Kohala and Waimea; and the Sugar Mill Stack in Kohala, which collapsed, according to the Historical Hawai'i Foundation.

Newer buildings

Seven newer school buildings, a hospital and some port structures also showed evidence of earthquake damage, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said. He and other officials said a reliable damage estimate would not be available for a few days but likely would be considerably higher than the $46 million in damage listed so far.

President Bush signed a major disaster order Tuesday, making federal aid available for recovery efforts. A team of assessment personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived to assist in the process.

The quake, followed shortly by a smaller quake and several aftershocks, was the strongest to hit the islands in more than 20 years.

But no deaths or major injuries were reported, and financial damage could be limited because Hawaii Island - called the "Big Island" by most everyone here, and larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined - is less densely populated than Oahu or Maui.

About 170,000 people live on the Big Island, and much of the land is agricultural, undeveloped or in the path of an active lava flow.

Sam Howe Verhovek writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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