Sunday, February 28, 2010

Riding out Hawaii's tsumani warning

I awoke yesterday morning about 6:00 a.m. and my usual routine is to groggily flip on my computer and check my e-mails.  The first one I got was from a friend, titled "Praying for you!"  That opened my eyes and I was instantly awake.   I really didn't know what she was talking about until I read further and realized that the entire state of Hawaii was under a tsunami warning as a result of the 8.8 earthquake which had struck Chile hours earlier.  I turned on the news just as the civil defense sirens started blaring.  Facebook and Twitter came alive with chatter.

We live on the top of a mountain which is at least 900 feet above sea level and we're 15 minutes from the nearest coastline.  So I knew we were safe (but if floodwaters ever do reach our house, then you can assume the rest of Oahu is underwater).  Nevertheless, we filled our bathtubs with water and made sure everything was charged in case of power or water outages.  We also checked our supply of toilet paper--you see, we live on an island and if anything happens to shipments, t.p. becomes one of the hot commodities around here.  Food--I'm filipino so we always have plenty of food in our house, so no need to even check if there's enough to last us for a few days.

The first wave was expected to hit Oahu at 11:19 a.m.  It was 6:00 a.m. when sirens started going off and the entire state began serious movement.  I've never experienced anything like this, and to make a long story short, it was comforting to see the coordinated state response and the effective communication.  Hawaii was very fortunate that the waves were much, much less than anticipated.  We had been told to "prepare for the worst and hope for the best" and again, we're thankful for the way things turned out for us.   Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Chile.

As a photographer, I couldn't resist the urge to go out and take a few pics.  (Yes, I know we were told to stay off the roads.)  I wasn't about to go near the water (police were making sure people didn't), but I wanted to go see what was happening since I'd heard people were starting to fill the park and church in our neighborhood.

Since we live on a mountaintop, hundreds of people in lower areas began making their way up to our neighborhood.  The main road uphill became a constant procession of cars.   This normally empty street was packed.

People began setting up tents on the sidewalks.  This is an overlook which gave a view of Diamond Head and much of the leeward coast.  I saw trucks loaded with grills, water jugs, and pets. 

The pets--I saw an elderly man sitting by himself, cradling his little dog in his arms and you could hear the civil defense sirens in the distance.  I was driving too quickly to get the shot, but of all the things I saw and heard yesterday, that image stays with me. 

All people could do was watch and wait.  It was nerve-wracking for everyone, not knowing if their homes would be safe.  Yet, there was an air of calm acceptance for whatever might happen.  

While I was out driving around with my daughter and taking pictures, I got a text from a photographer friend on the mainland (Rita Lawrence with Bitsy Baby Photography).  She said she was thinking of me and hoping all was well.  I texted back saying "Believe it or not, I'm out driving around taking pictures!"   She texted back saying, "I KNEW IT!!!

I didn't get the shot I wanted of this, but I had to take this one anyway.  Earlier, there'd been a little girl sitting on top of the truck next to the box which said, "FISH FOR SALE."  I thought it was priceless. 

The tsunami turned out to be no more than a gentle 2-foot wave.  But you never know how these will really turn out, so we stayed prepared. Anyway, all of Hawaii is breathing a collective sigh of relief today.  I've been chatting with friends and every one of us seems to be using today to wind down from yesterday's emotional events.  It was stressful.  But we're all so grateful things turned out the way they did, and I thank all of my distant friends and family who sent their thoughts and prayers to us.  (P.S. I'm still keeping my surfboard and swimfins within easy reach!)

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