Hawaii Damage Estimated at $73 Million, Possibly from Two Quakes

October 20, 2006

Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, Hawaii’s director of civil defense, said 1,173 homes on the Big Island were damaged from Sunday’s earthquake, including 29 considered uninhabitable.

Preliminary damage estimates from the earthquake hit $73 million, and President George W. Bush declared a major disaster, ordering federal aid to help state and local recovery efforts.

Damage included $43.5 million for schools, $7 million at Kawaihae harbor, $11.6 million to businesses, $8.3 million for roads and bridges, and $2 million for water systems, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency reported.

The updated preliminary figures didn’t include $650,000 for residences quoted earlier Tuesday by Janet Snyder, press secretary for Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim. Snyder had said figures could change radically when she placed the over damage estimate at $46 million.

Gov. Linda Lingle told a Capitol press conference that it was premature to provide a statewide damage estimate. She noted as an example that 100 residents who thought their homes were undamaged by the quake reported water leaks during torrential downpours Monday night.

“I think we’re going to see damage that we didn’t see immediately,” Lingle said.

The president’s disaster declaration makes federal funding available to state and local governments in the counties of Hawaii, Honolulu, Kauai and Maui for debris removal and other purposes, the White House said. Certain nonprofit organizations also may be eligible. Assistance to individuals was not immediately included.

Kim said one of the reasons the island didn’t sustain more damage than it did was the strict building codes that have evolved over decades of natural disasters.

Buildings on the Big Island must meet the strictest level of any of the Hawaiian Islands. There are no buildings taller than 100 feet (30 meters). There are also no highway overpasses.

Meanwhile, scientists are investigating whether the magnitude-6.0 earthquake that rocked Hawaii within minutes of Sunday’s 6.7 temblor was a separate quake and not an aftershock.

The lead scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory and a seismologist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said they were two independent events. Others are not so sure.

The 6.7-magnitude quake struck 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) northeast of the Big Island’s Kona airport at a depth of 24 miles (39 kilometers) at 7:07 a.m. local time Sunday. Seven minutes later, the 6.0-magnitude quake struck 27 miles (43 kilometers) north of the airport at a depth of about 12.5 miles (20 kilometers).

Jim Kauahikaua, the scientist-in-charge at the observatory, said the difference in depths establishes that the two are “independent.”

But Egill Hauksson, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology, said it is too early to categorize the magnitude-6.0 event.

Scientists still need to analyze the pattern of aftershocks in the coming months before determining whether the smaller event was an aftershock or a triggered earthquake, Hauksson said.

“There’s more research to be done,” he said.

Seismologist Vindell Hsu, of the tsunami center, said it’s not uncommon for earthquakes to trigger others and it has happened in Alaska and at California’s San Andreas Fault.

“A major earthquake may trigger or activate a neighboring fault and start another good-sized earthquake,” Hsu said.

Kauahikaua expects several opinions.

“Some of these earthquakes get worked on for years. Different techniques come up. People have different points of view,” he said. “This is our assessment within the first three days after the earthquake. If somebody can make a powerful argument the other way, fine.”

Aftershocks are a series of smaller earthquakes that occur after the main shock and in the same geographic area. Aftershocks can rock a region for months or years. Generally, the bigger the main shock, the more intense the aftershocks will be.

Dozens of aftershocks have been recorded since the initial quake.

Kim, who served decades as the Big Island’s civil defense chief, said the latest quakes came after a long stretch of seismic calm.

Kim said a third to half of the population had never experienced a quake of Sunday’s magnitude.

Since 1960, the Big Island has been hit with 31 earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 4.0. But Sunday’s first earthquake was the largest recorded since a 6.7 occurred under the east flank of Mauna Loa Volcano on Nov. 16, 1983.

The island also experienced a 7.2-magnitude quake on Nov. 29, 1975, and an estimated 7.9 temblor on April 2, 1868.

The vast island — spread across more than 4,000-square miles of lava fields, rain forests and pasture lands — was formed by several volcanoes. Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, spewing lava and expanding the island’s surface.

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