Residents and visitors displayed a range of emotions—from extremely shocked—to business as usual. All agreed: “We have never felt anything like that before.”
A 6.7-magnitude earthquake followed by a 5.8-magnitude quake and strong aftershocks jolted Hawai‘i early Sunday, Oct. 15, causing property damage, landslides, power outages, airport closures and injuries. Then on Tuesday morning, two additional quakes occured about 8 miles west of Kawaihae and 8 miles south-southwest of Waikoloa Village, both on the Big Island. The first was a 3.9 magnitude at 5:26 a.m., the second a 3.6 about 90 minutes later. These could be aftershocks from Sunday’s quakes. No fatalities were reported as of press time (Tuesday morning, Oct. 17).
The quake hit at 7:07 a.m. 10 miles north-northwest of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, prompting fears of a tsunami. According to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC), there was a tsunami generated by the earthquake. It measured about four inches high when it hit the Big Island coast.
The Big Island
Jim Barnhart, of Barnhart Associates Real Estate Hawai‘i in Lahaina, was less than 10 miles from the epicenter when the quake hit. Barnhart and his wife, Nancy, were spending the weekend at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the North Kona Coast. They said the sound was what struck them the most.
“It was this deep, grinding, primeval roar,” Nancy said.
“I was in the outdoor shower, with tall lava rock and plate glass walls around me,” Jim said. “I don’t even remember getting out of the shower and running inside. Nancy was crawling on the floor looking for something to hide under.”
The Barnharts grabbed a few bottles of water, put on their shoes, and hurried out of the hotel. Having watched a one-hour special on tsunamis the night before, they were ready to run for the hills.
“What I couldn’t believe was that people were just standing around outside looking at the pools and the beach just like we’d seen them doing in Thailand [before the second wave hit],” Nancy said. “There was no panic. There was almost a disassociation, like a numbness that people couldn’t figure out what to do… We got out of there as fast as we could.”
The Barnharts drove their rental car up the mountain, where they waited for an hour, watching the ocean and trying to find information on the radio. Although the PTWC issued a statement that there was no danger of a tsunami at 7:12, five minutes after the quake, the Barnharts said that information was not distributed on the Big Island until three hours later.
The Schuals were at Lahaina Shores, in a ground-floor room. Steve dragged his wife, Sky, a freelance writer for the Maui Weekly, out of bed to pull her under the doorway. When the rocking stopped, they grabbed water and her purse and they ran outside barefoot.
“People were pouring out of the hotel, some in bathrobes,” said Sky.
The Schuals jumped in their truck and headed for Napili. “All the traffic lights were out but there were police officers at most of the big intersections. There were no radio stations. Finally we heard it was a quake on the Big Island, where my parents were, and I was so upset. But we finally got them on the phone and they were OK,” said Sky.
An hour later, the Schuals went back to Lahaina Shores, got their belongings and drove home to Ha‘iku. There were rockslides all along the Pali, held back by the metal screens.
In Makawao, residents and visitors gathered on the steps of businesses on Baldwin and Makawao Avenues after the major quakes subsided. Their only concern, besides the lack of information about the earthquake, seemed to be their inadequate supply of morning coffee.
Outside of Rodeo General Store, a group exchanged stories. Ha‘iku resident Robin Rohrer was visibly shaken as she told of her experiences that morning. “My whole house shook violently. Everything fell to the floor and broke—valuable things and old family things. The kids and I ran outside and stood in a clearing in the middle of the lawn. I couldn’t tune in any radio stations, so I called my brother in Las Vegas and told him to tune into CNN to tell me what has happened to us. He called me back and said they reported a 6.5 earthquake, but he didn’t have any more information. He was able to get me local news faster that I could get it from Hawai‘i.”
Kaye Wills and Karyn Felix, visitors from Boise, Idaho, drove up to Makawao from the Maui Lu hotel in Kihei. “I knew this was something Mother Nature was doing... and I know I have to get up and get away from the water,” said Wills. I’m originally from the Midwest, where we have tornadoes, but I never experienced an earthquake before.”
Kim Ferriera was in her Maui Uplands second-story apartment. “It shook so hard, I spilled my coffee, so I had to come downtown to see if I could get more.”
As people continued to show up for coffee and newspapers, Ferriera noted that nothing seems to dissuade people from carrying on their Sunday morning routine or their need for caffeine.
Kenny, Patty and their son, Jack (last names withheld), were visiting from Portland, Oregon. “We were shaken out of our beds,” said Patty of their Sprecklesville accommodations. “We were packing for our flight back home when we heard a loud noise, and the shaking began. Our house was swaying and rocking, so we jumped into a doorway. It lasted for 20 seconds. We know about earthquakes and volcanoes—we live near Mt. Saint Helens,” said Patty, “but we have never felt anything like that before.”
“We grabbed our shoes, computer, phones and wallets and headed to higher ground,” said Kenny.
“I’ve always wanted to see Makawao, anyway,” said Patty. Upon hearing the airport was closed, she said, “There are worse places to be stuck.” They were concerned that they could not reach anyone by cell phone, but said the experience was “inconvenient but exciting.”
Penny Montani, her husband and friends heard a radio broadcast telling them to stay where they are. They were staying at the Shores of Maui on South Kihei Road, a few feet above sea level in their first floor condo. “I’m sure! We’re not going to stay put and possibly be hit by a tsunami,” said Montani.
The visitors said that as many as 25 to 30 people were gathered across the street checking out the waves and sea level. “‘Tsunamis never happen here,’ is what the locals told us,” said Montani. But the visitors said they weren’t about to stick around to find out if they were wrong.
Their friends, Lynne Creary and husband Jay, who used to live in California, said this quake was “a rough, and long quake. I’ve never experienced such a long quake as that,” said Lynne.
In Kihei, Maui Weekly government and culture editor Joseph Bean became his apartment building’s hero, as he was seemingly the only resident prepared for an emergency of this magnitude. “I was able to tune in KPOA, which runs on a generator, so I knew what was happening. I have a battery operated TV/radio,” said Bean. He also was able to make morning coffee for eight of his neighbors. “I have a propane burner.” He was surprised that others were not at all prepared. “Some people seem to think that just having some candles is preparation enough,” said Bean, who also works for the Pacific Disaster Center.
“I am impressed with the aloha during this event,” said Bean. “As I drove in Kihei, stoplights became four way stops without effort. Everyone is handling this very well.”
That was not everyone’s experience, however.
“I have to say that I was a bit shaky for a while,” said Michele Bailon, account executive for the Maui Weekly. “North Korea did come to mind when there was no power and I couldn’t tune in a radio station. Eventually stations came on and listening to the car radio made me feel much better.”
Bailon went to Safeway in Kihei and was surprised by the way some were reacting to the quake. “I saw couples fighting and a lady crying because she was so scared. People were loading grocery carts with water and food and whatever they could,” said Bailon. “I saw one lady with three carts.” People in the store seemed to be panicking, she said.
“I also saw people walking to the beaches and sitting and watching the water,” said Bailon. “I couldn’t believe it.”
One thing Bailon and many residents may have realized—they were not prepared for an emergency of this magnitude. “I didn’t have batteries for my radio, or enough supplies on-hand—something I will take care of immediately.”
Allegra Fasnacht, a Maui Weekly staff writer, was camping with friends near Kaupo. “My roommate had called and warned us that there was a hurricane possibility for Sunday,” said Fasnacht, “so we went where there are caves for protection from the elements.”
When the quake started, the campers ran from the cave and turned to see rock from the cliff rumbling to the ground. They quickly moved their cars and broke down camp. “My friend had just moved his car when the second quake hit and a boulder fell on that exact spot,” said Fasnacht.
They quickly learned that both ways out of Hana were blocked from rockslides and boulders so big they penetrated the asphalt. “So we were stuck—without coffee!” said Fasnacht. “We heard about a boulder that was ‘as big as a car,’ so we went to check it out.” Fasnacht said it became a gathering place. There was talk of trying to move it, and although it seemed impossible, people did try, Fasnacht said. They had trucks and chains, but the chains kept snapping and there wasn’t much to be done until the county came in. At approximately 1:30 p.m., two county trucks rolled by. “Everyone clapped and cheered,” said Fasnacht. “We knew that the east side of the road was open. In a few minutes, we were on our way to Hana Town, driven mostly by our sheer desire for coffee.”
The rest of the Hana Highway had been cleared, but rubble and downed power lines made it more dangerous than usual going around the cliffs, according to the campers.
If a large tsunami was to be generated from an epicenter as close as this, Hawai‘i residents would have only minutes to react. Despite earlier estimates from non-experts, the PTWC said that if this quake had created a destructive tsunami able to travel interisland, it would have hit South Maui in 25 minutes and it would have reached O‘ahu in 35 minutes.