HONOLULU – 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.
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 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.
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.
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 side from where the quake was centered.