Aftershocks keep Hawaiians on edge

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The Independent US

Aftershocks kept Hawaiians on edge following the strongest earthquake in more than two decades, a 6.6-magnitude quake that caused blackouts and landslides and prompted vacationers to flee their hotels.

There were no reports of fatalities, but the state civil defence department 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 US Geological Survey.

"We were rocking and rolling," said Anne LaVasseur, who was on the second floor of a two-storey, wood-framed house on the east side of the Big Island when the shocks 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, 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 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, while 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 cleanup, 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.

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 accommodation 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 strong temblor was in 1983, registering magnitude 6.7.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency 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.

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.