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Quake Damaged Historic Sites

Hawaiian temple walls, a palace and other structures were harmed in Sunday's temblor.

October 18, 2006|Sam Howe Verhovek | Times Staff Writer

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — Resorts, airports and much else about Hawaiian life were back to normal Tuesday, two days after a magnitude-6.7 earthquake struck just off the island of Hawaii.

But for some of the Big Island's most historic -- and fragile -- structures, the effects of the quake were not so quickly overcome.

"We didn't fare well at all," said Fanny AuHoy, administrator of the two-story Hulihe'e Palace, built of coral, lava rock and native wood in 1838 for the Hawaiian royal family. "This building has withstood other earthquakes, hurricanes and big storms. But this damage is really bad."

Huge cracks were evident inside and outside, and several large chunks of plaster had fallen from the ceilings of the palace. Run by the Daughters of Hawaii, it includes items dating back to what some native Hawaiians call "pre-contact days" -- or the time before Westerners arrived.

The palace was among a dozen or so historic structures, all on the Big Island, where major damage from the quake was reported.

"We were very relieved that there was no loss of life" in the quake, said Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawaii Foundation, a Honolulu-based nonprofit that is tracking the damage.

But, added Faulkner, "we are concerned about the loss of the historic fabric in west Hawaii Island."

Moreover, she said, "we are urging people not to make any hasty decisions about demolition or replacement."

In Kealakowa, some of the 14-foot-tall temple walls, or heiau, built by chief Umi Ai Liloa in the 16th century crumbled. "I'm devastated," said Jo-Anne Kahanamoku, curator of the heiau.

At the Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, also on the western side of the Big Island, Chief Ranger Ben Saludo said there was extensive damage.

"On the north side, the temple wall collapsed on the outside -- half of the walls in that area collapsed," Saludo said.

"It is an incredibly significant site in Hawaii history," added Saludo, who said the heiau there was built in 1790 by Kamehameha I, the ruler who succeeded in uniting the Hawaiian islands. "It is really the site of the founding of his kingdom. Without this temple, there wouldn't have been a Hawaiian monarchy."

Royal figures ruled Hawaii until the late 19th century, when Hawaii was annexed as a U.S. territory. Kamehameha is still an honored figure in Hawaii, and AuHoy, the palace administrator, said the palace here and two others on Oahu are of considerable historical significance since they are among the few royal palaces built anywhere on American soil.

At the one-acre Hulihe'e Palace site on Kailua Bay, visitors have long been advised by a sign on the grounds to "watch for falling coconuts."

Now, said AuHoy, her concern was falling plaster.

The building was closed to tourists pending a structural damage assessment. Some historic items, such as writing desks used by Queen Kapi'olani and Princess Ruth, were also damaged.

Each of the six rooms in the palace had some visible damage, but AuHoy said she was hopeful the structure could be restored. "We're hoping that it's mainly cosmetic," she said. "I don't know where we'd get the money for a major renovation."

The palace was built by Gov. John Adams Kuakini, who is described in a historical marker here as a companion of Kamehameha's and "one of the first chiefs to take up Western ways."

Among other structures damaged in the quake were two other sets of temple walls; a few older churches in Kohala and Waimea; and the Sugar Mill Stack in Kohala, which collapsed, according to the Historical Hawaii Foundation.

Seven newer school buildings, a hospital and some port structures also showed evidence of damage, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said. He and other officials said a reliable damage estimate would not be available for a few days, but would likely be considerably higher than the $46 million listed so far.

President Bush signed a major-disaster order Tuesday, making federal aid available for recovery efforts.

A team of assessment personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived to assist.

The 6.7-magnitude quake (followed shortly by a smaller quake and several aftershocks) was the strongest to hit the islands in more than 20 years.

But no deaths or major injuries were reported, and financial damage may be limited because the island of Hawaii -- larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined -- is less densely populated than Oahu or Maui. About 170,000 people live on the Big Island, and much of the land is agricultural, undeveloped or in the path of an ongoing lava flow.

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Times staff writers Julie Cart and Lynn Marshall contributed to this report.

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