Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tsunami Experience

Here is a map of the Big Island.  On the left hand side you can see the little airplane, representing the Kona airport.  We are staying in the area of the 11 that is on the Highway,  heading north from the airport.  (Kohala Coast)

This is how the whole entire weekend played out (some duplicate information from earlier, some new information & pictures)...

We dropped my mom off at the airport at about 5:30 pm.
Here is Nan getting ready to go through security and me taking a photos of the event just in case my mom didn't get off the plane in SLC I would have proof that I did my part and made sure she got on the plane in Hawaii.
Kelli & Nan (looking for her ID & boarding pass, hoping Security would not notice the pineapple in her carryon bag.
We left the airport and headed to Costco to get gas.  It was at Costco that my phone beeped to alert me of the 8.9 earthquake.  I looked at my phone and said that it must be an error--there couldn't possibly be an earthquake that big.  We went into Costco and picked up some more lettuce, cottage cheese & fruit (my mom claims that is the only thing I would let her eat while she was with us).  
We drove back to our Condo where Sierra, Cole and Kristine were swimming and lounging.  (Summer was with me and Rick when we dropped off my mom).
We took the kiddos to the Island Gourmet to get Cole an Icee and a few other items.  That is when I got an alert on my phone that there was a Pacific Wide Tsunami Warning.
I purchased a T-shirt.  The clerks at the store were in panic mode.  The young girl helping me could not stop shaking.  I thought she was going to burst into tears.  I asked her if I could skip the plastic bag and just put the shirt in my purse (you know how I am about those plastic bags).  The poor girl could not even register what I was saying.  
The girls were both saying things like, "I didn't drive to work, how will I get home?", and "What will happen to my family?"  It was about 8:30 pm.  I asked them when the store closed and they said 11 pm, but they usually don't get done until 1:00 am.  The girl who was helping me lived in Kona, about 30 minutes away.
So, we quickly left the store and went back to our condo to watch the news.
We watched the news for a while.  At about 10 I decided that regardless of what the night would bring, Cole needed to sleep.  So, I got him into bed.  The rest of us got comfy on the couch for a long night.  Rick and I were trying to evaluate the situation and determine if/when we would evacuate.
We went out to the rental car and shuffled things around.  One of the full time residents of the complex was outside and asked us if we were going to evacuate.  We said that we were going to prepare to evacuate.  He told us exactly where we were supposed to go.  He said that last time there was an evacuation, they stayed but their guests chose to evacuate.  Interesting.  He said that once we left the evacuation zone, we absolutely would not be allowed back until the threat of tsunami had passed and the evacuation was cancelled.  He said to take food and water.  Makes sense.  They also wanted to have a record of who was planning on leaving and who was planning on staying.  This was incase there was a serious situation and they would know how many people to search for or account for if something terrible did happen.  I appreciated that.

(A side note here is that when my Aunt Shirley, Uncle Don & family were in Oahu last year when the Chilean earthquake hit and they were evacuated.  They did move to higher ground, but they didn't have food, water, or a restroom.  Apparently they found a kind soul who took pity and invited them to use her bathroom.  There was no real danger, the warning was cancelled and they returned to their vacation)

We went back inside and started packing our bags and eating treats (didn't want them to get washed away).  It was about 11 pm by this time and they predicted that the waves would hit at 3 am.  But, they were waiting for the waves to pass Midway Island to get a better indication of the speed of the waves.  

They sounded the emergency sirens every hour on the hour.  2 times we had a security vehicle come through the community and warn of the emergency and tell us to evacuate.

We filled all of our water bottles and put them in the freezer.  Rick adjusted the temp of the fridge and freezer to its lowest setting in case we lost power.  This would keep the food cold/frozen for just a little bit longer if necessary.  We pulled a portable cooler out of the closet and had it on the counter, ready to fill, if necessary.  I threw in a load of laundry so that all of our clothes would be clean--who wants to pack dirty clothes?  (I did the same thing when we were warned of Hurricane Katrina.  Good thing.  We were w/o power for 7 days.  I'm glad I had clean clothes to wear.)

Above, Kris is monitoring the news on the TV.  Behind her, Summer is at the fridge filling water bottles.  And you can see the blue cooler on the floor, ready to be filled.

Above, Rick is filling his suitcase with the things he is not willing to risk leaving behind/losing.  You can see the variety of batteries on the bed.  Rick had several flashlights for SCUBA diving, but I was glad to have them and the batteries to power them.  (I mean seriously, who takes flashlights and 3 sizes of batteries on vacation?)  Luckily the power did not go out.

One thing that they kept saying on the news is how the tsunami waves encircle the entire island(s).  So, even though the earthquake was to the West, the impact of the waves could hit anywhere on any island.  They said that there would be significant waves and damage, it was just impossible to predict exactly where.

I took a 30 minute power nap.  Summer was frantic--upset and crying,  Sierra was resting peacefully.

Once we got everything ready to go, we got the big things into the vehicle (suitcases & SCUBA gear).  Then we waited.  It was about 1 am.  I was nervous.  (that's when I blogged)  I also checked FACEBOOK.  One of my friends from high school had a son at BYU--Hawaii and had not heard from him.  She was a nervous wreck.  I was "talking" with her, keeping her up to date with the local news reports.  (she later learned that the Church is pretty strict in situations such as this.  They have a specific location that the students go to in a tsunami and keep close tabs on each of them until the threat is lifted and they can be released to return to campus)

Rick got on the internet to determine if we were in the inundation zone (meaning, mandatory evacuation zones).   It wasn't really clear exactly where we were located on the map, but we were really close either way.  Rick continued to research the maps on the internet while we watched and waited.  We decided to see what happened when the waves hit Kauai.  We would still have 30 to 60 minutes to get to higher ground once we saw what happened on the Eastern end of the island chain.  Nothing to report.  The local news station couldn't get any reports from Kauai.  So, either they were washed off the map, or they heeded the warnings and moved to higher ground.

We knew that we were located about 1 mile from the coast.  And we were at an elevation of about 59 feet (there's an APP for that).  Rick continued to monitor our situation from the internet.

So, we waited to see what happened when the waves approached Oahu.  They had a webcam that showed part of the beach on Diamond Head.  The problem was, it was still 4 am and totally dark.  But, suddenly the water did start to recede.  You cold no longer see any water--just the shadows of the exposed coral.  Then after a long pause, the water came back.  Not quickly, but much higher than normal.  It did this several times.  It almost seemed anticlimactic.

By about 4:30 I could not keep my eyes open.  Nothing seemed to happen to Kauai, Oahu, or Maui at this point.  So, we decided to go to bed.  If there was serious danger, we thought that we would hear the warning sirens and we could jump up to the upstairs balcony if necessary.

Next thing I knew, it was 8 am.

I got up and counted my children.  All were accounted for.

Rick got dressed, armed himself with a water bottle, phone, and camera.  And headed to the entrance to the beach area.  Security officers were still patroling and wouldn't let anyone past the gates--the beaches were all closed throughout the state until the Tsunami Alert was lifted.  (the alert stayed for almost 24 hours, until all coastal areas were deemed safe.)  So, we watched the news from Japan for a while.
After a few hours, we were able to make our way down to the Waikoloa Beach Resort area where the shops, golf course, and the majority of the vacationers stay.  We got some lunch.  Our server told us that A Bay (short for Anaehoomalu Beach) received some damage.  The sand was washed away as were the beach chairs.

It appears as though the waves hit the Big Island at about 5 am, just as I was falling asleep.  The worst damage took place in Maui and the Kona area of the Big Island.  So far, there have been no reports of injury or death.  These people take the threat of Tsunami quite seriously.

This picture is from last year, but A Bay has this big berm of sand all along the beach and apparently it is now gone.

This is as close as we could get to the beach since they are all closed.  This was at about 1 pm.  This is A Bay in the back ground.  You can kind of see what it is left of the Big Wall of sand.

This is a view towards the ocean from the same spot.  Lots of "stuff" floating around in the ocean.   Coconuts were bobbing up and down.
When we went to the beach today, the kids had a ball finding all kinds of shells and ocean stuff that had washed up onto the beach.

These 2 photos kind of show the sandy path behind the edge where the waves wash up onto the lava rock.  Normally it is sandy and smooth, but now (about 8 hours after the tsunami) you can see how the lava rocks and coral and leaves and branches have washed back and forth across the path.

While we were walking along the beach, I saw a girl talking on her cell phone.  I was eavesdropping (which really wasn't hard to do, the way some people talk on the phone like they are the only one around for miles).  She sounded like she was talking to her mom and she looked like she had all her worldly possessions in her backpack.  She was talking about the tsunami and saying how she realized how important it was for everyone to always have an emergency kit with them at all times.  Makes me think about how often I do not have an emergency kit with me.  A disaster could happen at any time.  And my emergency kit would still be at home, in the basement, waiting to be assembled...

We learned that the Four Seasons Hotel was hit quite hard.  We think that it is about half way between where we are located (A Bay) and the Kona airport.  It's the area that pokes out just a bit. (near the 19 on that part of the map at the top).   The vacationers at that resort were all relocated along with all of their soaking wet belongings to the resort where we are staying.

Ali'i Drive also received a lot of damage.  This picture was taken last year, but you can see the rock wall behind Barry, the surf coach.  That wall runs all along Ali'i Drive and was knocked completely down in some areas, allowing water to run up and into homes, restaurants, and shops.


It was interesting to see at Church on Sunday how the local members reacted to the situation.  In Relief Society, the lesson was on the Word of Wisdom which easily turned into a tangent on Food Storage.
When asked if the sisters felt any sense of panic when the tsunami warning was issued, no one raised their hands.  They all said that they felt adequately prepared.  It sounded like there had been a lot of information shared and preparations made since a year ago when the last tsunami warning took place.  Rick said that the lesson in Elders Quorum was given by the ward emergency preparedness specialist.  (not sure if that was planned, or last minute)  He said that the instructor lives in a lower elevation community where there in a main grocery store for the coastal area.  Shortly after the warning was issued, the store was packed.  Not a parking stall in site.  chaos.  But, not among the members.
Rick said that the Church will ship food from Distribution to Oahu for free (not free food, free shipping).  Then from Oahu to the other islands is $40 per pallet of food.  That's a lot of food to ship for $40.  Seriously, considering the cost of groceries, no wonder the Mormons on the big Island eat oats and bake their own bread.  At Costco today I noticed that the 2-pack bread is $7.89.  So, even though the Islanders typically eat rice, oats, and wheat are becoming popular among the members.  No wonder these people have food storage.  Even in this poor economy that has hit Hawaii very heavily.


What I learned...
always.  always.  always have enough gas to drive 50 miles.  never let the tank get below half.

always have a 72 hour kit handy.  that might mean having more than one.

always heed the warnings.  it may not be a tsunami in Utah.  But, it could be a storm warning, flood warning, power outage, or other disaster.  The experts may be wrong.  You can hope they will be wrong.  But, if they are not, their warnings will be in vain, if we don't listen.

My heart is heavy for the people in Japan.  That is all I can say about that.


Amara said...

I can't sleep. Disaster here last night although on a smaller scale. Always have fire extinguishers handy too. Glad you're safe.

Jacobson Five said...

Thanks for the update. I was worried about you. I'm glad you gave minute to minute details, kind of fun to read.