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  • "Walking in Waikiki" - "What I Learned in The Tsunami"

Courtesy of Cloudia Charters Author of Aloha Where You Like To Go?

Walking in Waikiki
Cloudia W. Charters

"What I Learned in The Tsunami"

 For once nobody was walking in Waikiki. Not even me! There were no sunning bodies on the beach, no outrigger canoes full of laughing visitors, no flotillas of Saturday surfers rising and falling with the famous waves. Instead, sirens blared, as slow moving firetrucks and police cars blanketed the resort area with loud speaker warnings: "Tsunami warning! Evacuate, Evacuate!" Beach toys and mopeds (street toys) were loaded onto trailers and moved inland. Hotel guests had awakened to clear information and instructions about vertical evacuation to upper floors. The Ala Wai Yacht Harbor was throbbing with frenzied activity as some boaters loaded their vehicles to leave, while others prepared their boats to run to sea, there to ride out the emergency in a fleet that included professional fishermen, weekend sailors, and at least four US Navy warships out of Pearl Harbor. . .

. . . By 10 AM the avenues were strangely quiet. While calm and orderly, the atmosphere crackled with determined resoluteness and just a hint of reckless excitement. The mountain lookouts above Honolulu teemed with evacuees. What could be done, had been done - or would have to remain undone. There was nothing left but to gather around the TV, the battery operated radio, or the internet, and watch as the whole world watched us. Familiar local vistas, like that from the lookouts on Diamond Head Road, were widely broadcast. We all waited to see what would happen when the first wave reached the Big Island around 11:15 AM. . . 

At the Waikiki Banyan, two solid cement towers on Ohua Street, elevators were locked at the sixth floor recreation deck as residents and guest were asked to remain on 6 or above. A jaunty group at the Waikiki Grand (134 Kapahulu) partied on the magnificent 10th floor sun deck while expectantly watching the ocean less than a half a block away. The zoo animals across the street were said to be safe, but one local wondered if wild animals might not be soon swimming or striding down Kalakaua Avenue. No one knew what to expect, but we fervently wished ourselves, our neighbors, and our guests well. In May of 1960 much of downtown Hilo (on the Big Island, Hawaii) was damaged by 8 tsunami waves that reached 35 foot-heights, killing 61 people. Hilo's "Big One" on "April Fools Day" 1946 reached a height of 45 feet, killing 159, and bending city parking meters sideways.

"Mr. [Hilario] Aquino said that when the waves hit the church, he was tossed out amidst the children. He swam about rescuing the children and lifting them up into the large trees of the church yard. When the waves subsided, 10 of the children were safely clinging to the trees and their parents all agreed that Mr. Aquino had saved their lives."

-- From the Honolulu Star Bulletin, April 05, 1946.

Hawaii has experienced one damaging tsunami about every 12 years of the last 157 - except during these last 34 years. So you might say that we are due. Today, fortunately, we have <>advanced warning. And the scientists learn more with every one. Last August's quake in Samoa, for example, would have triggered a similar warning and evacuation here just 3 years ago. The next big one in South America may not call for such precautions again once all the new data is evaluated. Reading survivor stories of earlier SUDDEN Hawaii tsunami tragedies reminds us how lucky we are in that regard. (<>Pacific Tsunami Museum) Several months back, while strolling along little Young Street (about a mile and a half inland) I watched as groups of students chalked a blue line along the sidewalk. They were doing this to show the extent of Honolulu's Tsunami Inundation Zone. These last 34 years have lulled us. But that blue chalk line came to mind as I packed to flee my boat. Those like myself who have lived here less than 34 years tend to think of tsunamis as a part of Hawaiian history, like Kamehameha or the monarchy, though we regularly experience the awesome power of nature via flowing lava and earthquakes, both of which are considered "normal" on the Big Island. . .

. . .Our small 20th floor tsunami "party" enjoyed air conditioning, cold drinks, and a flat screen - enjoyed them very much, thank you - expecially as they might be the last comforts we would take for granted for some time if the waves interfered with Hawaiian Electric. A 6.7 tremblor struck 6 miles off of Hawaii at 7:07AM on Sunday, 15 October, 2006 causing wide spread damage on that isle and a power outage here on Oahu. Honolulu International Airport was "off line" until around 6 that evening and some travelers spent the night in hotels. Many residents spent that night powerless, or even longer. But on this February Saturday it seemed that our luck had finally run out for real, as tsunami waves had us in their sights, traveling across the Pacific at 600 miles per hour. Living without power for one day might come to seem but trivial if the worst occurred. . .

. . .As you now know, the worst did not happen, but no one seems to regret the precautions we all took that day. It was a very worthwhile drill and thank the heavens for that! The main thing that I learned was that Hawaii people will behave with Aloha when faced with fears that could well cause a panic elsewhere. No one pushed, no one cut in line, there were no fist fights at the gas pumps, even though lines many blocks long had formed by dawn. We did a wonderful job. We helped each other, and our guests noticed. . .

. . .Tides around the isles did behave strangely for a couple of days, rising and falling a foot and a half in 2 minutes in some spots. Fish flopped on suddenly dry coastal flats until the sea rushed back to cover them again. Oahu has seemed to be in a reflective mood since the All Clear, like the pause for a smoke "after." 

. . . The big Chile quake did shift Earth's figure axis by about 3 inches, reportedly making our day 1.26 milliseconds shorter. My life has certainly shifted on it's axis. The Waikiki air smells even sweeter to me, and problems - what problems? It was not until after the emergency, as I offered a silent prayer of thanks, that I realized that I had not tried to "pray away" the looming disaster. All I had asked for was the strength to do what I needed to do in the face of fear; and that I received. 

I learned a lot about my neighbors, and about myself during the tsunami warning. Perhaps I learned to appreciate the "boringly" normal for the gift it really is. Which brings me to one last question: Faced with an hour to run away, what would YOU choose to carry along? These are just the things that come to mind in the wake of a receding threat. . . when you're walking in Waikiki. . . ALOHA!

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