Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tsunami Warning

On Saturday morning, Sam's phone rang at around 6 am. It was his brother, Jon, letting us know that there was a tsunami warning for all of Hawaii - apparently serious enough to be on the news in Texas. We got up and got on the internet to see what was going on. A few minutes later, our landlord knocked on our door and let us know the evacuation route further up the hill. That kind of freaked us out, considering we already live a couple miles inland, on a hill. This must be serious.

So, like any sane couple, we got our hides inland, right? Nope. This particular Saturday happened to be the same day that I had scheduled to take a test. This test is required for me to graduate, and is only offered at this one university in Hawaii once a year. That university happened to be in Aiea, which is on the south side of the island, where the tsunami was going to be hitting first. I checked my email - nothing from the school. I called them - no answer. I called again, and again. No answer. Nothing on the website. We decided that it wasn't worth the risk if they decided to hold it. If I missed it, I could end up delaying my graduation by months and months. So, at 7 am, we got in the car and drove down to Aiea.

We stopped at one of the three gas stations on the North Shore, but the pumps were dry. People were taking this thing seriously. We were listening to the radio and learned that the tsunami was projected to hit Oahu, our island, at around 11:40, so we had time. We drove down the road that goes through the middle of the island, and passed a lot of people who had already set up camp on the side of the road. There were quite a lot right next to the Dole Pineapple Plantation. We kept on going though, right toward the ocean.

When we arrived at the university, the doors were locked and it was dark inside. I called a number posted on the door and after some phone tag, confirmed that the test had been cancelled due to the warning. Apparently they couldn't find my phone number, which is why they didn't bother to call me. I guess email was too hard. I was not happy, but at least we still had over three hours before this place was supposed to be underwater.

We filled up on gas in Aiea and headed back inland to Mililani. Apparently everyone else had this idea too, since Mililani is the town that's most inland, but fairly close to Honolulu. We pulled into a shopping center and saw people camped out underneath parking structures, with kids playing with balls, lawn chairs out, and barbecues set up. It looked like a huge tail-gait party. We were hungry, so we headed to the Burger King. There was a huge line of cars, so I hopped out while Sam waited for a spot. I swung the door open and saw a line of about 50 people. Confused, I turned around, nearly bumping into a guy on his way in, and went back to the car. Why were so many people at Burger King at 8:30 am?? Burger King of all places. So we went to the Wal-Mart close by. It was fairly busy, but not anything crazy. People were shopping for clothes and acting casual, with only a few people pushing shopping carts (called trolleys in Hawaii) full of supplies. There was a McDonald's in there, but there again - at least 50 people in line. We were starving, so Sam waited in line while I grabbed a few things, since this was the closest Wal-Mart to our town, Kahuku, and we were still about an hour away from home. After we ordered, it took another 30 minutes to get our food. Craziness. While I was sitting and waiting, a really disheveled man sat next to me, and told me he'd been up since 2am, packing all his things into his truck. Then he told his wife to order him an ice cream sundae. Breakfast of champions.

We grabbed our food, even though some of it was cold, and got back on the road. We had learned from the radio that the waves were expected to be around 6-8 feet high, and figured that if we could get home, we'd be fine considering how far inland our house is. Unfortunately, our breakfast had taken so long that we didn't make it back to the Kamehameha Hwy before 10am, when they closed it completely. This is the only road to our town, but it goes right next to the ocean, so they had taken the precaution of shutting it down after evacuating the low-lying town of Haleiwa. Apparently even though the tsunami was coming from the south, it would likely wrap around the whole island and still create waves onto the north shore. We then learned from our trusty radio that if power lines or trees were to block the road, it could be 3-5 days before it re-opened and allowed people to return home. Awesome. We then drove around this little podunk town called Waialua until we found a general store. The shelves were mostly empty, but we bought some soda, crackers, peanuts, beef jerky, and chips to get us by. Then, we drove around until we found a nice big tree and parked under it for the shade. Then we waited.

I feel asleep a few times, but we kept the radio on and I listened for the count down to when the waves were going to hit the Big Island, which is the southernmost island in Hawaii. 11:00 was the predicted time, but 11:00 came and went. Then the time for it to strike Oahu came and went. The people on the radio kept urging listeners that we were still in danger. They described that the tide has started to recede off Big Island, and off Waikiki in Oahu too, which is indicative of a tsunami wave. Then the tide came back in. But it wasn't a tsunami. It was just a little wave. We seemed to be.... safe.

Sam and I were getting bored, so we decided to go exploring a little while we waited for the roads to open. We saw some beautiful new beaches up on the north shore, near the west end. We parked and watched the ocean from a high cliff, just in case. It was serene and beautiful, as always. We kept listening to the radio, knowing that if something happened in Hilo, on the Big Island, that we had about 30 minutes until the same thing happened on Oahu. Nothing happened though. It was about 1:00, two hours after the predicted time, and the radio started talking about lifting the warning. We started driving back and were able to make it back onto the Kamehameha Hwy. We saw Waiamea Bay, one of the most popular surf and tourist spots, completely deserted. It was gorgeous. Why didn't I take a picture?? I was just so anxious to get home after so long.

After a little mix up with the police blocking the road (one cop blocking one direction, and a few miles down the road, a second cop blocking the opposite direction), we finally made it home. I collapsed on the bed and slept for probably 4 hours. What a day.

On Monday, it was fun to exchange stories with my coworkers of where they spent their time and all the panicked calls from the Mainland. I got to use it as an example of critical thinking in my student development class on Tuesday. All in all, it was a good experience in emergency preparedness for everything, I think.

Moral of the story: Always be prepared, so you don't end up waiting in line for an hour at McDonald's just to get some cold food.

3 Comments:

Blogger Juanique said...

that's kind of cool and exciting! How many people get to experience an unnecessary Tsunami Warning and survive it? You can say YOU WERE THERE when the Tsunami hit Hawaii in 2010!

I had to laugh, T and I were watching the news anchor in Hawaii show us the effects of the Tsunami....it showed about 30 mins of small waves hitting a coral reef. We were laughing at how dumb he looked trying to make it all exciting and scary! that was evidence to me that you guys were probably OK.

March 4, 2010 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger thobeka said...

ditto to what juanique said! :) AND do you realise that's illegal to live in hawaii, have a blog, & not have pics? just saying.

March 5, 2010 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

We were so worried about you! We watched the news all day until they lifted the warning. Glad it ended up not being as bad as predicted. Crazy that MceeDees is where everyone flocked. So happy you are alright and now have a cool story to tell.

March 7, 2010 at 7:49 PM  

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