The Tsunami that Wasn’t

“I have a lot of excitement in my life. I used to call it tension, but I feel much better now that I call it excitement.” Madeline Costigan

Aloha!

So I’d already had my allotment of excitement for a Saturday night and was now reading, of all things, “Finding Your Way in a Wild New World” by Martha Beck, when the air-raid siren went off. That sucker is LOUD. And since it wasn’t noon on the first day of the month when the firemen do their test signal, it got my full attention. “What the…?” I personally think that Americans need to come up with more creative ways to curse at times like these. The British are quite good at this, but when an American utters, “Bloody hell” or “Bullocks,” we just sound like pompous asses.

Anyway, I thought maybe someone set off the siren accidentally. After all, nothing was going on. Right? Wrong.

Last night we had the tsunami that wasn’t. After a magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck off Canada, we were placed on tsunami warning, the highest alert…signaling that all coastal areas were likely to be hit by a wave and initiating evacuation efforts. About an hour later, Maui Civil Defense issued an “immediate evacuation advisory,”and Kahului was evacuated. We could see the lines of cars snaking up Haleakala Highway and Omapio Rd. from our back porch. Made me feel all fuzzy inside to live this far away from the beach for once.

Two years ago Hawaii had another tsunami that wasn’t. Mike owned a catamaran then with three other guys, and the first thing they tell boaters is to take the boat out to sea. Seems counterintuitive, but you want to get as far from shore as possible. So we had our own little
Panic because they were telling us the boats could have to stay out for days. We gathered up every gallon of water we had, and because I cook from scratch, there was essentially no canned food in the house to send with him. I felt like a failure: if the tsunami doesn’t get him, he’ll die of starvation. And there was no time to go to the store. The warning came late; this was all going on about 10:30 PM.

Mike stayed out with the boat off Lanai that night, and all the next day. There was some minor damage of Maalaea harbor and Lahaina harbor. But all in all, it was the Hawaii tsunami that wasn’t.

Fast-forward two years, and here we are again. We gather up the flashlights, check the batteries, make sure the weather radio is working. We take all the ice out of the freezer and put it in a cooler and replace more Tupperware containers full of water in the freezer. The scary thing is our main electrical transformer is in Kahului, way too close to the water for comfort. What were they thinking? So there’s always the chance we could lose power, and refrigeration, for days.

After a tense three hours, Kahului has been evacuated, and… Nothing. Barely a ripple of higher waves on the shoreline.

Kahului and Paia were both taken out by a tsunami in the 1950s. A woman I know tells the story of her grandmother hanging wash on the line in Paia with her children playing in the yard, and she heard the wave before she saw it. She dropped the clothespins, grabbed her babies and ran for higher ground. They were safe.

This time it was reported that the warning sirens on the Big Island failed to go off in a number of places. The news reporter on television laughed and said, “Probably a gecko crawled in there and died.” Yes, the geckos are troublemakers…. but it doesn’t inspire much confidence in the system. After Japan’s tsunami, we’re all aware of what could happen.

There was pandemonium in crowded Waikiki last night with everyone in their cars, rushing to higher ground. Many car accidents. Eventually on the news, they told everyone to just get out of their cars, leave them where they were, and get to higher ground. The lines at the gas stations were jammed, which is why I make it a practice to always fill my car when it hits a half tank.

It seems we’ve had many instances of a tsunami in Hawaii that wasn’t. I worry that it’s become a bit liking crying wolf, and one of these times people will simply refuse to evacuate.

In the meantime, I enjoy living at an elevation of 1500 feet. Living at the beach sounds like fun…till it isn’t. This is always a good reminder that life can turn on a dime. Time is short, the people in our lives are precious.

A hui hou! If you’d like to subscribe to this blog, please click the Follow button on the Homepage. Mahalo for stopping by!

Aloha, Jamaica

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2 thoughts on “The Tsunami that Wasn’t

  1. Wow! We were in Maui this weekend and was having dinner in Paia with friends when the waitress came by and suggested we eat faster. I thought she was kidding at first. But she didn’t smile and seemed worried. Luckily we were staying in Kula so, we were headed up after dinner. What was surprising to me was the run on gas and supplies, and the lines of cars heading up country on every road going up. Is this level of panic normal? I thought living on an island people would be more used to stuff like this.

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