At Sunrise All Was Calm
Anyone that knows much about the Big Island of Hawai'i will tell you that Hilo has been overdue for a Tsunami for a long time. Traditionally they have hit this side of the island over and over, causing death and destruction. It is for that very reason that Hawai'i County Civil Defense has a well deserved reputation for handling disasters and protecting the islands residents, property and visitors. They did so Saturday in an amazing way. Most of the world was watching our little island for a while then.
Tsunamis can be scary things and any place along the coast of any land mass in the Pacific is susceptible to them, though few locations are in such a direct line of them as Hawai'i Island, sitting like a little target in the middle of the pacific with no other land to protect her.
My house sits on a cliff over looking Hilo Bay. We are very high up on the cliff and in no eminent danger from a Tsunami, at least not directly. Of course there is always danger of loss of infrastructure and maybe damage to our cliff. Many people on the mainland do not fully understand Tsunamis or what they do, and so when they hear of one, they thing that all of us in Hilo are in danger. We all would feel loss if a significant one should happen here of course. Chances are that in my lifetime that will be the case. Much of the downtown area of Hilo, as well as the area where major hotels are would suffer some damage. A lot of this has to do not just with those areas being waterfront, but the actual shape of the ocean floor in and around our harbor. In addition to that, many of our valleys and inlets would be the worst hit, including our blessed Waipio Valley.
So, here is how yesterday played out for us.
My friends Ray and Marsha had spent the night after we had attended a dinner party together down in Hawaiian Paradise Park. They live 45 miles north of me in Honoka'a and own 2 lovely vacation cottages there.
At 4 am, I got up to make coffee and turned on the News. To my surprise they were talking about the Tsunami, which at that time was projected to have 8-12 waves. Still in the big picture, that would even be a small Tsunami, 1946 (54 feet) was the worst and 1960 (35 feet) also was very destructive. Today we have lots of warning systems in place. The sirens (VERY loud and lasting 5 minutes) sounded, the actual arrival time was set at 11:19 am. I woke our friends and they decided to go back to let their guests know that there was no danger for them. As the time drew nearer, mainland friends started sending text messages & e-mails. Phones continued to ring and many of my friends checked in via Facebook, one even staying with me through the entire ordeal. It is true that in times of eminent danger you find out who your friends are!
The Last Boat Out of the Harbor
The boats in the harbor were instructed to leave and to go to the safe depth of 1200 feet. They had completely cleared the harbor by 9:30 am.
Here, you can actually see the time lapse video of the Tsunami and as we watched this we all breathed a sigh of relief. This is another video of the water coming and going in and out quickly.
You can learn more about Hilo's devastating history of Tsunamis here at the Tsunami Museum web site. They also have a web cam there that shows live views of Hilo Bay. There are interviews with survivors and a multitude of photos and films to view in their archives.
Still Fairly Calm at 10 am.
The Surf Picked Up and the Color of the Water Changed
The Boats Returned to the Harbor, Last One Out, First One In
In the aftermath of the entire event, the mayor of the island of Hawaii gave his take on the entire event in this video. If you watch it you will see the spirit of our island at it's best. In the end, our public servants, residents and visitors all worked efficiently to clear the danger zones. We had a first hand experience seeing what would happen in far more dangerous conditions. Everyone I have talked to about the situation feels the same way. We are prepared for a bigger disaster when it does come our way. The scare of 2010 was a very real one with no disastrous effects, next time we may not be so lucky, but we will be ready.