Hawai'i hit by strong earthquake; diocese assesses damage

October 15, 2006

The Episcopal Diocese of Hawai'i is currently assessing the extent of damage caused by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake that struck at 7:07 a.m. local time on Sunday, October 15, causing a landslide that blocked a major highway on Hawai'i Island and knocking out power across the state. More than 50 aftershocks have been felt throughout the islands.

Bishop Richard S. O. Chang of Hawaii was on the Island of Maui at the time for services and confirmations at St. John's Episcopal Church in Kula.

The Rev. Heather Mueller-Fitch, rector at St. John's, and Chang were outside the Church preparing for the 7:30 a.m. service when they felt the ground moving.

Services at St. John's continued as planned and an all-island gathering of Episcopalians with Chang after the 4 p.m. Evensong happened as scheduled.

Chang is making contact with the local clergy to get an assessment of the damage.

Richard Ohlsen, ERD's director of Domestic Disaster Preparedness and Response, has been in contact with Chang and the diocese is expected to send ERD a detailed report as soon as possible.

The Diocese of Hawai'i is composed of more than 40 parishes on the islands of Kaua'i, O'ahu, Moloka'i, Maui and Hawai'i.

There are no immediate reports of fatalities, but Hawai'i's governor declared a statewide emergency as local agencies are working to restore power, Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) reported.

The state civil defense had unconfirmed reports of injuries, but communication problems prevented more definite reports, according to the Associated Press. People were also trapped in elevators in Oahu, authorities said.

The quake was centered 24 miles below the west coast of the Big Island and 157 miles southeast of Honolulu. It was not strong enough to trigger a tsunami, but is the biggest earthquake to hit Hawai'i since 1983.

Professor Willis H. A. Moore, a layperson in the diocese, was the lector and eucharistic minister for the 7 a.m. service at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Honolulu. "I heard a distant rumble and felt the ground shake a bit," he said via email. "The rumble became louder and the 140-year-old Cathedral Church of St. Andrew began to creak, groan, growl, and make other undefinable noises."

The Rev. Canon Timothy Sexton ordered everyone to evacuate the Cathedral "to be sure nothing was going to collapse," Moore said. "After a few minutes of surveying the premises, it was determined to resume the Holy Eucharist."

By the end of the Gospel reading the electricity had failed. "Canon Tim Sexton preached in the cloudy-day-dimness, without his notes; I read the Prayers of the People standing near a window for light, and the remainder of Rite was carried off by memory and by candlelight," Moore added.

To help people affected by this disaster, please make a donation to the Emergency Relief Fund at http://www.er-d.org/, or call 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to Episcopal Relief and Development "Emergency Relief Fund" P.O. Box 12043, Newark, NJ 07101.

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