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Just in Case...

March 1, 2010 - Trisha Smith

Friends and neighbors keep their cool in cooperative frenzy on south shores.


Even before the Maui sun had its chance to reach above Haleakalä in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Feb. 27, innumerable cell phones across the Valley Isle rang incessantly as family and friends abruptly woke their loved ones to the harsh reality of living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—a tsunami was on the way and could Hawai‘i within a few hours.

When you hear that an 8.8-magnitude earthquake has rocked Chile just a few hours prior, and its aftermaths are mercilessly tearing up the Southern Hemisphere, going back to bed quickly becomes irrelevant.

Neighbors among the streets in Kïhei Town talked story at dawn, hoping to understand the reality of exactly what was going on, while still trying to wipe the slumber from their eyes. As the emergency horns started to sound and the dogs around town started to sing along, residents of the “Sun Coast” realized quickly that this was not a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.

While many sat in front of their TV and computer monitors, and looked to the amplified national news for answers, many moved right into survival mode and started packing up their vehicles to head to higher ground.

By sunrise, lines had formed at all Kïhei gas stations, with cars spilling onto the streets, waiting to fill their tanks, “just in case.” The shelves at all the gas station snack shops were quickly ransacked and the parking lots of the grocers filled up fast.

By around 7:30 a.m., the Minute Stop at the Pi‘ilani Village Shopping Center had already started to turn away its line of anxious consumers and those at the head of the madness indicated the locale had already “run out of gas.”  Folks didn’t seem to mind/notice that the price of gas had increased substantially. (Gotta love corporate monsters…)

Before heading up to Wailuku, Kïhei resident Caleb Dunham and his friends hit up the Safeway off Pi‘ilani Highway for some basics around 6:30 a.m., and they were not alone, as hundreds stocked their carts with “essentials” including bottled water, chili and Spam. While waiting in line for nearly 45 minutes to check out, Caleb and his buddies had to intervene when a fight nearly broke out between an “impatient tourist and a local resident who didn’t see eye to eye.”

Up in Central Maui, Caleb and his pals watched Kahului Harbor and said they “saw the tide go out and the reef exposed, and then come back, and just in and out.”

“We watched the ‘Hilo cam’ too, but we weren’t really freaking out,” he said. “I didn’t really think anything big was going to happen.”

Anchorage residents Laura Dagon and her husband are frequent visitors to the island, and were staying in a home in Wailea near Pi‘ilani Highway. She said while her husband—a former 10-year Maui resident—went out “garage-saling with a buddy and went about like it was any normal day,” she became cautious after a friend from Seattle called to check on her.

“After speaking with some neighbors who confirmed we were we at a safe level, I took their advice and filled my tub with water, just in case,” she said. “I felt pretty calm after getting some comfort from the neighbors.”

“I think the national news made it sound horrible and overacted—-typical,” said Dagon. “My relatives were crying and it didn’t even occur to me I was in real danger.”

Saturday morning, Captain Jay Halford of Strike Zone headed straight down to Mä‘alaea Harbor to move his charter boat. After making his way through some vigilant police officers, Halford and some crew set out to sea and enjoyed “a good day on the water” of fishing and friendship.

“If there’s a tsunami heading your way, the best place to be is out to sea if you have a boat,” he said. “You got to protect your vessel from the impending danger of the surge.”

Halford commended “all the public works’ guys” for all their hard work and the county for taking the right precautionary steps. “I think it was a good drill for everyone during an emergency situation,” he said. “I think next time, everyone won’t freak out as much.”
As several events were cancelled and businesses closed across the Isle, the tsunami scare did not stop one nonprofit from holding a successful annual fundraiser.

According to Ka Lima O Maui’s Controller Sharon Ferrell, their fourth annual golf tournament still went off with a “shotgun start,” although a few minutes behind schedule. The Kahili Golf course was “filled with a lot more audience members than usual.”

Campers in the parking lot set up shop with coolers and chairs, most likely due to the fact the locale sat on a higher elevation in Wailuku. It seemed to be a family affair to watch the impending wave fest. “I thought they were cheering us on, only to realize that they were all looking out at the ocean and not so much at us,” said Ferrell with a smile.

By 8:30 a.m., a little less than three hours before the big waves were predicted to hit Hawai‘i, Kïhei had nearly become a ghost town, with beaches shut down, residential parking lots emptied, and the shoreline streets bare. “Always-opened” chains like Longs Drugs and ABC Store even closed. “When Longs is closed, you know it’s serious,” I thought to myself as I passed the completely vacant lot off Pi‘ikea Avenue early morning Saturday.

Outriggers from North Kïhei’s beaches were removed from harm’s way and rested along such side streets as Kaonoulu Avenue, as police and fireman made their rounds about town, requesting over loud speakers that “all residents evacuate immediately.”

Neighbors exchanged kind words and friends from your past called “out of the blue” to make sure you were all right.

The whales did not get the memo though apparently, as they continued to put on quite the show in the coastal waters. With clear blue skies and nice temperatures, it turned to be a gorgeous day.

As spectators set up camp Upcountry, they realized soon into the early afternoon that the “show” had been cancelled. As Hawai‘i seemed to have “dodged a bullet,” the aftershocks continued west to Japan and even hit Afghanistan with a small earthquake later in the day.

Kïhei resident Leslie Mullens and a few friends did not let the weather scare ruin their full moon “night ride” tradition on Saturday.

“Around sunset, we headed out on paddle boards and kayaks, and connected with the ocean after a long and strenuous day,” she said. “I felt keenly aware of my appreciation of the water and felt gratitude that we had been spared from disaster.”

On a Kïhei beach that evening, she did experience the water along a seawall “rise up and go down quickly” like she had never seen before.

“We’re very lucky and being on the water, I felt it as a positive force instead of a negative one,” said Mullens.

The scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did their jobs well, and our local government kept us informed via radio and television broadcasts, along with live feeds online throughout the day. All in all, we stayed positive, helped each other out and we’re over-prepared in a potentially disastrous situation.

These moments really put things into perspective and the realization of how many people love and care about you becomes humbling. Thanks to everyone in my life who tried to reach me. (I still haven’t returned my full voicemail inbox and countless texts!)

Assessing the situation, being prepared and keeping your cool during these “drills” are what keeps wonderful communities like Maui strong and committed to each other. Thanks to my “CERT-ified” editor Deb for putting me in a progressive motion Saturday, and Miranda for “keeping it real” and putting me in a mellow state of mind.

Looking out my kitchen window, you can see the ocean directly ahead—preference for killer sunset views also means that you are in the straight alley of harm’s way if a tropical storm should hit. As I gathered a few friends, a furball named Leilani, and some “basics” to head Upcountry, I felt pretty calm. (Endless gratitude to my baby girl Pearl for opening her home to my existence for a day. Rainbow-winged butterflies and fun!)

Now, take a moment today and recollect on this crazy weekend. Let’s now concentrate our positive thoughts on the unfortunate souls in Chile and send our prays of hope and recovery their way.

Google has an easy-to-use Crisis Response site set up where folks can help out relief efforts in a variety of ways.

Sunday’s tropical weather in Kïhei, sideways tide and numerous rainbows were, in my opinion, a message from Mother Nature or a higher power. We were spared from disaster this time. "Better safe than sorry," as they say. The preparation process forced moments of realization within some of us and put our busy lives in check. It opened my eyes bright and early Saturday, and they have been wide open to the reality of living in paradise ever since.

“Lucky we live Maui?” Yeah, I’ll still go with that…

Aloha and malama pono!  



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Blog Photos

Many cars stopped along the highway near Pukalani to check out the at-risk shorelines from higher ground.