Hilo Tsunami, Big Island, Hawai'i
The eyes of the world were on Hilo, Big Island, Hawai'i last week when it was feared that the Pacific Ocean would generate a tsunami as a result of the massive Chilean earthquake. As we now know, a large wave did not materialize.
My husband and I were in Hilo on February 27, sleeping soundly in our holiday condo. Sirens started wailing at a few minutes to six in the morning. At that time, it was still dark. We were already aware of the possibility of tsunamis and had read the routine warnings posted on the fridge so we knew that this wasn't a routine testing of the system. Three minutes later the phone started ringing. Our agent in Hilo was calling to make sure we knew that a 12 foot wall of water was expected. The condo, an older building is located on the beach. Get out, she says. I was wondering if we had enough time to run for the car, but then we were told that we had a few hours to pack and go.
Hilo has suffered two disastrous tsunamis in modern times, one in 1946 and another that killed 70 people in 1960. The people take tsunamis seriously there and test their warning system every month. The early warning system is in place to make sure that no-one in the danger zone will be unaware. The caretaker of the building came to make sure we understood that we needed to evacuate. Some residents of the building, above three stories, opted to stay but as my husband said - Chickens are us. As we left the danger area, we saw that the police, fire and various civil defense personnel had taken up positions at the tank farm and other vital areas, harbour roads were being shut down in an orderly manner and some storefronts were being covered in plywood. The evacuation was orderly and calm.
We tuned in to the local radio station which suspended all ads for the duration of the alert. One of the messages they kept repeating was, "This is not a surfable wave". High above the danger zone we had a view of the harbour and waited to see if we were sleeping in the condo or a shelter that night. Many others took up viewpoints to see what was going to happen. Boats left the harbour for safer water offshore. Fortunately the day was sunny and calm.
As the morning wore on, one of the enduring memories that I will carry with me is the spirit of Aloha that the residents displayed. No tempers flared, strangers spoke with one another and for my husband and I, complete strangers offered to bring us into their home for some shade and cool water.
All's well that ends well. The tsunami topped out at about three feet, stirred up some silt and moved on to the other islands. We gratefully slept in our safe, dry beds that night. Knowing that the people of Hilo, Hawai'i are on guard for us made our dreams all the sweeter.