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6.6. magnitude quake rocks Hawaii

HONOLULU &

Officials fanned out across Hawaii early today to inspect bridges and roads following the strongest earthquake to rattle the islands in more than two decades, a 6.6-magnitude quake that caused blackouts and landslides, but no immediate reports of fatalities.

"The level of damage is still being assessed right now," Rodney Haraga, director of the Hawaii Department of Transportation, told CBS' "The Early Show" today.

"We know that on the Big Island we have had some problems with road closures, some rock slides and right now we're sending a team this morning to go to the Big Island to do an assessment on several highways."

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 U.S. Geological Survey.

Haraga said power had been restored on Oahu to only about 50 percent of customers, but electricity on the Big Island was "practically all up."

Gov. Linda Lingle issued a disaster declaration for the state and the state Civil Defense had several reports of minor injuries as aftershocks continued to shake the island chain.

"We were rocking and rolling," said Anne LaVasseur, who was on the second floor of a two-story, wood-framed house on the east side of the Big Island when the temblor struck. "I was pretty scared. We were swaying back and forth, like King Kong's pushing your house back and forth."

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Tourists walk by a crack in the road after leaving their rental car behind due to the closure of the Akoni Pule highway in Kawaihae. Hawaii. The 6.6-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of the Big Island in Hawaii caused damage to many roadson the Big Island. Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006.

Agustin Tabares | The Associated Press

Lingle, who was in a hotel near the epicenter, 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 USGS gave a preliminary magnitude of 6.6. To make matters worse, the quake struck during heavy rain, adding a risk of mudslides.

The earthquake was followed by several strong aftershocks, including one measuring a magnitude of 5.8, the USGS said. Forecasters said there was no danger of a tsunami, though choppier-than-normal waves were predicted.

Earthquakes in the 6.0 magnitude range are rare in the region, which more commonly sees temblors in the 3- and 4-magnitude range caused by volcanic activity.

"We think this is a buildup from many volcanic earthquakes that they've had on the island," said Waverly Person, a geophysicist with the USGS.

The power outages were largely due to power plants turning off automatically when built-in seismic monitors were triggered by the earthquake. All electricity systems needed to be rebooted, which was expected to take several hours in more populated areas.

"We were totally prepared for a disaster such as this, but obviously with a disaster this big you can't be prepared for everything," Haraga told ABC's "Good Morning America."

Kona Community Hospital on the western side of Big Island was evacuated after large chunks of ceiling collapsed and power was cut off, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

At least 10 acute care patients were evacuated to a medical center in Hilo, said Terry Lewis, spokeswoman for the hospital. About 30 nursing care patients were being moved temporarily to a nearby conference center, she said.

"We were very lucky that no one got hurt," said Lewis.

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.

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A Hawaii County maintenance truck crosses over a crack in the road in the Kohala district of the Big Island of Hawaii, after a 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006. The earthquake caused power outages and damage throughout the state.

— Michael Darden | The Associated Press

The earthquake caused water pipes to explode at Aston Kona 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.

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, according to the USGS. The last strongest temblor was in 1983, registering a magnitude 6.7.

A FEMA 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.

Lingle told radio station KSSK that she toured the Kona area by helicopter to view the damage, including earth falling into Kealakekua Bay.

"You could see the water was turning brown," said Lingle.

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, a top tourist destination on Oahu, worried visitors began lining up outside convenience stores for 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 Croes, as they sat poolside in lounge chairs surrounded by grocery bags at ResortQuest Waikiki Beach Hotel.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Les Dorr said planes were arriving at Honolulu International Airport, but there were few departures. Security checkpoints were without power, so screeners were screening passengers and baggage manually.

Resorts in Kona were asked to keep people close to hotels, Kim told television station KITV. Cruise ships were told to keep tourists on board, and ships that were due to dock were asked to move on to their next location, he said.

"We are dealing with a lot of scared people," he said.

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A vehicle drives around a boulder in the road in the Kohala district of the Big Island of Hawaii, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006, after a 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The earthquake caused power outages and damage throughout the state.

Michael Darden | The Associated Press

The Big Island has about 167,000 residents, many of them in and around Hilo, on the opposite site of the island from where the quake was centered.