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|| News Item: Posted 2006-11-16

The Day The Big Island Shook
By Aaron Nagata

Photo by Aaron Nagata

Photo by Aaron Nagata

Debris scattered over the floor of Nagata's work space following the 6.7 magnitude quake in Kona, Hawaii.
The coffee had finished brewing moments before as I attempted to pour my first cup of the day. The Sunday Edition of West Hawaii Today glared towards me, appealing news catching my attention. I remember how I couldn't wait to take my first sip and start my way to the sports section. All of a sudden, rumble, roar, creaking wood, and the house started shaking.

My immediate thoughts focused on my son sitting a near ten feet away, who was glaring at the television watching his Sunday morning show. Split seconds past, then he shouted "earthquake, whoa earthquake." The rumbling, very noticeable, continued as I started towards the side entrance to the house. Couple more split seconds past, the rumbling, roars and wood creaking sounds continued. I shouted to Burke (my son) "come over here" As I stood under the side entrance doorway, my son whisked past me as I turned towards him, he was 10 feet away from the doorway---outside in the middle of the driveway.

I shouted again, "come over here" where I stood under the doorway. Like dog who lost their footing as their feet was still in motion, he immediately changed his direction, came back towards the house, diving under a table that stood in the middle of the carport. As I looked across my driveway, towards the neighbor's house, I could see my neighbors outside in their driveway not knowing where their next place to go was.

The telephone pole was swaying back and forth, swaying back and forth about five feet each way. Then all of a sudden, the roar, the rumble, the wood creaking had stopped. I continued to stand motionless under my doorway, thinking about the largest and strongest earthquake I've ever felt. Then it dawned on me, "watch for the aftershock!" I proceeded towards the back of the house, thinking of the worse, I found where my wife and daughter stood as they rode out the biggest quake ever, this time I said it out loud---"watch for the aftershock!"

We all went out separate ways checking for damages throughout the house. Picture frames, books, ornamental objects, DVD's, and everything else that was standing laid scattered across the floor. Looked like someone got mad and threw items off of the shelves and onto the floor. Ninety seconds later, the first aftershock. This time we froze in our positions wondering oh no, here we go again. This one lasting for ten long seconds. Minutes later, another one.

Up above on the highway sirens started to blare, immediately we switched the TV channel to the local news station. Without any warning, power to our home was lost. No problem I thought, my laptop runs on batteries, I can access information via the Internet. Wallah, no Internet. No problem, I'll turn the radio on and find out about what had just happened. Wallah again, no radio! No problem, I'll call someone. Wallah, no cell phone! No problem, I'll start cleaning up around the house.

By this time, my father who lives a couple houses down from me arrived at my home. He to, had the same look as we all had. As we traded stories and shared our experience amongst each other, the third aftershock appeared. This time it wasn't long enough to comment on. We went back on to sharing our stories and experience. Seemed like my father was worse off than us and needed help with cleaning up. I told him I would be at his residence shortly. In the mean time, I sent Burke, age 14, to check on the surrounding neighbors. Saxon, 11, was sent to her mom to assist with cleaning up the inside of our home.

It took the four of us more than forty-five minutes to clean the living room, bedrooms, and bathrooms. Each time we passed each other, we traded more stories of the quake even though it was still fresh in our minds. Each time we retraced our steps more vividly.

Our first phone call came thirty minutes following the quake. It was my sister who lived eight miles north of my house. She to felt the quake and suffered similar damages, but luckily nothing major. The phone rang more often, other relatives calling to check in on us, "are you folk's o.k.?" Is everything alright? Yes, yes, and yes became the responses to the calls that were coming in.

Ninety minutes later, power to the house was restored. With power more calls came in. In times like this, repeated calls are common and mainly used to check in on one another and to pass on further reports surrounding our neighborhood, district, and community.

One of the most prevailing calls came from a friend who was planning to head down to a conservation area (Captain Cook's Monument) located about a mile from my residence. This friend mentioned the Cliffs, or Pali in the Hawaiian Language, had collapsed and fallen into the bay. A massive dust cloud was seen traveling across the bay heading out towards the open ocean.

Photo by Aaron Nagata

Photo by Aaron Nagata

Debris from the cliffs surrounding Kealakekua Bay covered many burial caves.
Being the photographer that I am, I asked if I could accompany him down to Capt. Cook's Monument. Capt Cook's Monument is located in the northeastern section of Kealakekua Bay. Many years ago Captain Cook's Monument, known to the locals and old timers as Kaawaloa, once was residence to high chiefs and royal members of the kingdom of Hawaii. This friend Gordon mentions about his grandfather being raised in that area, has extensive knowledge of this area, and is part of a cultural group who was given the caretaking rights by the Department of Land and Natural Resources. This trip was to check on the effects and damages this earthquake may have caused.

What we saw was amazing. The Pali showed evidence of fallen rocks and debris from above. The water near the shoreline contained thick brown silt. We'll assume this silt layer came from the dust cloud that covered the Bay earlier. All around the Monument was covered with a thin layer of brown dust; it reminded me of New York City following terror attacks. The most notable damage focuses on the burial caves located high on the Pali. The fallen debris covered some of the caves entrance and made access to the others easier. This brings concerns to members of the Royal Order of Kona and the Department of Conservation for possible entry and removal of artifacts. What was observed was documented by me and copies were provided to the Department of Conservation and Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Following this trip to Kealakekua Bay, I proceeded to the Kona Community Hospital on assignment from the Honolulu Star Bulletin. The Hospital was under evacuation due to excessive damages suffered during the quake. Patients from the Long Term Care Unit were the first to be moved. Patients were bused to the Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa where their convention center was immediately turned into a Long Term Care Unit. Patients from the Medical/Surgical Floor were temporarily moved to the administration building where they awaited transfer to Hilo Medical Center. A total of six patients were airlifted via the Disaster Management Team's C130 Cargo plane.

Other areas suffered major damage included Waikoloa Village, Kohala Community, and North Kona. After shocks continue to rock the island five days following the initial quake. Although Power was restored to most of West Hawaii, other areas of the State weren't so lucky. West Hawaii residence voiced their concerns regarding the lack of access to public announcements since most of the local radio stations did not have back up generators to supply the necessary power needed. As mentioned earlier, rooms suffering the most damage was the operating room. The hallways were littered with fallen ceiling tiles, as workers were busy sweeping them up.

When the Disaster Management Team arrived, most of the patients were moved out of the main hospital and could be found in another building that withstood the destructive quake. As they assessed each patient, they decided that a total of six patients would be airlifted to Hilo Medical Center. Their professionalism was astounding. Kudos to the Hawaii County Fire and Police Departments who was instrumental in moving most of the patients out of the main building and situating them in their current location. I was able to hold conversations with the paramedics, Emergency Medical Technicians and fire fighters.

Photo by Aaron Nagata

Photo by Aaron Nagata

Kona Community Hospital's Operating room suffered extensive damage following the quake measuring 6.7 magnitude. Kona Hospital was declared a disaster area and closed for operations.
Each had their own story and experience but the one that stood out was an EMT who rode out the quake during his commute to work. He had indicated coming around a turn when the quake hit. "At first it felt like I had experienced a flat tire," then "as I looked up the bank to my left, a huge boulder was tumbling down." This boulder apparently was jarred loose during the quake and started to fall. "Thought of my life flashed by as I watched this boulder heading towards me." Immediately he depressed his brakes stopping a few feet in front of where the boulder came to rest. "A split second later, I would not be here talking to you."

Sharon, a hospital employee, mentioned her husband had left earlier in the morning on a deep sea fishing trip. "I phoned him after the quake and he said, 'What was that?'" The 25-foot fishing vessel was swept in a rocking motion after three quick waves hit them starboard side. Then looking back towards the island the dust cloud at Kealakekua Bay could be seen. "He must have figured there was an earthquake because he mentioned, I'm safe out here at 13 miles off the Coast of Kailua-Kona Town," she said.

In the mean time cellular service was restored but intermittently working due to high volume of calls being placed at the same time. If you got through, callers were asked to minimize their conversations in order to allow more calls to get through. Radio stations broadcast motorist to stay off the roadways as traffic in Kailua-Kona Town was backing up. Mom and Pops convenience stores sold out on items such as ice, bread, milk, and coffee as patrons felt the need to stock up with essential supplies. In Hawaii, there are no seasons except Hurricane Season. Prior to the start, which usually runs from August to November each year, residents are asked to prepare and stock up with supplies that would last them at least five days. Like every other resident, those suggestions are never taken seriously. For myself, I bought a generator years ago, but each time I need to use I'd have to visit the gas station to get gas.

It wasn't until later that afternoon when I finally arrived back home at 4 PM. to find our home was restored back to pre-quake normal setting. With the exception of an intermittent Internet connection, everything else was in use and operable. Every news channel on television that gave out reports was viewed. For myself my contribution towards news reporting came out the following day in the Honolulu Star Bulletin's daily edition. Thanks to fellow Sports Shooter member George Lee, who gave me the assignment. Without that, I would not have experienced the actual damages at Kona Community Hospital. Also thanks to the fellow Sports Shooter members who expressed their concerns and sent their warm wishes shortly after the first quake.


(Aaron Nagata is a freelance photographer on "The Big Island" of Hawaii.)

Related Links:
Nagata's member page

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