A magnitude-6.9 earthquake rocked East Hawaii this afternoon, causing thousands to lose power and items to be knocked from shelves but few immediate reports of substantial damage.
Centered about 10 miles southwest of Leilani Estates, the quake was the largest temblor so far associated with the newest eruption of Kilauea and the largest quake to hit Hawaii in years. There has been a steady stream of aftershocks in the hours after the 12:33 p.m. temblor.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.9 was the largest Hawaii quake since the 1975 magnitude-7.1 earthquake, which killed two people. The two quakes were centered in almost exactly the same location.
No tsunami was generated from the 12:33 p.m. quake, officials said, but some areas may be experiencing small sea-level fluctuations. Hawaii County Civil Defense said sea-level changes of 8 inches in Hilo, 16 inches in Kapoho and 6 inches in Honuapo were recorded after the magnitude-6.9 quake.
About 14,000 customers lost power in Hilo, Kaumana and pockets in Puna following the earthquake, Hawaii Electric Light Co. reported. At 2 p.m. the company said power was restored to about half of the customers and that crews were still working on the rest.
The Hilo Federal Building at 154 Waianuenue Ave., which includes the Hilo Downtown Post Office, was shut down because of structural concerns after the earthquakes. Post office officials said beginning Saturday and until further notice, Hilo Downtown’s P.O. box customers are asked to pick up their mail over the counter at the Hilo Main Post Office, 1299 Kekuanaoa St.
The state Department of Transportation inspected Hilo International Airport and found no damage to runways or facilities. Flights are resuming normally, the department said.
At 11:30 a.m. a magnitude-5.4 earthquake struck the same region. Its origin was at almost the same spot as the quake that hit an hour later.
The 12:33 p.m. temblor was noticed throughout the region.
State Sen. Russell Ruderman of Keaau said items were falling off the shelf while he was at Island Naturals, his Hilo natural food store, when the earthquake struck.
“This last one was scary,” he said, adding that he lived in San Francisco for 10 years and experienced some there. “It starts rocking and keeps on going. It’s very frightening.
“We’re rattled,” he said.
Ruderman said he moved to the doorway, and, “I think everybody prays in their own way at the moment. The fact we felt that so strongly is amazing,” he said.
“I hope it stops,” he said. “It tells me there’s much more than a couple of lava fissures. It’s not over and there’s frankly big things ahead.”
Ruderman drove to his home in Keaau to find lots of items broken — picture frames, crystal — that had fallen from shelves.
“If I have things breaking in Keaau (about 17 miles away), then people somewhere had structural damage,” he said.
Hundreds of people across the island and dozens as far away as Kauai reported feeling the quake, according to the USGS “did you feel it?” self-reporting web survey.
Guests at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel felt the jolt.
Karla Redding of Kailua was in her sixth-floor room looking out at the ocean when the floor and lampshades started shaking and swinging. “It was at least 30 seconds, but it seemed longer,” she said.
Hotel bellman Alan Shinkai said he was in the elevator during the quake. “I wanted to reach the ground as fast as possible,” he said.
Hilo resident Bobbie Stivers-Apiki was at the hotel for a convention of the Hawaii Region Y Service Clubs.
“Things started shaking side to side,” Stivers-Apiki said. “That was huge, the longest I ever felt.”
The 6.9 quake was followed by dozens of aftershocks under the south flank and summit areas of the volcano, the largest of which was magnitude-4.9. “Strong aftershocks should be expected, and could likely occur for weeks to months into the future. Individuals and families should prepare accordingly,” USGS officials warn.
“Remember to drop, cover, and hold on during strong earthquakes. Most common injuries come from falling objects,” said HVO’s seismic network manager Brian Shiro. “The earthquakes are related to the ongoing volcanic activity in Kilauea’s East Rift Zone and reflect adjustments beneath the south flank of the volcano. Additional strong, damaging earthquakes are possible.”
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Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter Dan Nakaso reported from Hilo.