Sunday, October 28, 2012

Waiting for a Tsunami in Low-Lying Honolulu

Results in Hawaii of the March, 2011 tsunami
So I was just talking to my family in Seattle as Shabbat ended here in Honolulu, catching up on the day when suddenly, I heard the familiar screech of the tsunami sirens, blasting out in the warm night. I was home alone, my friends and hosts out at a movie I deemed too tense for my taste.

I didn't know about any earthquake, but of course during Shabbat I'm off the news-loop, so my first thought was it was some kind of test or malfunction of the siren system. But no--the blaring, ear-piercing scream persisted.

I turned on local TV and was shocked to hear urgent warnings about an expected wall of water, and as I write this, the first wave blast is due in less than an hour. as I type, I hear warnings on the radio: turn off your computers. Turn off the lights and get out. The lines at gas stations are now long, as scared residents all seek to top off their tanks; supermarkets are busy with purchases of emergency supplies. On the radio: take your prescription medicines; take 5-7 days' food, including pet food, battery powered flashlights, eyeglasses, important papers in waterproof containers. Refuge centers are opening. Mike Buck, a local radio host I happen to know, is urging listeners to help neighbors out of their homes. Anyone lower than 4 floors in a beach-area hotel has to move upward.

Traffic in my area is jammed; reports two blocks away say it's moving at 3 mph. I packed my suitcase, but everyone here is just not worked up, having done this before in March of 2011 after the Japan quake--I was visiting at the time, joining my friends in filling the car and driving up the hill to the home of a neighbor.

There we watched on TV when the waves came in--cameras at various beach-points showed the whole process, the surf withdrawing especially far, a frightening pause, and then the tsunami surges rolling in, one long, deep wave after the other. A tsunami can last for hours; it's not the TV terror of a huge, hungry surf-type wave that devours all in its path in one gulp.

Probably the most suspenseful part is now, the last minutes before the expected impact. Tsunamis don't hit a single side of the islands--instead, they wrap around and hit all the shores, meaning the uncertainty affects all. So, rather than keep typing (and using the battery on my laptop), I suppose it would be prudent to leave now... with prayers (and expectations) that this tsunami, too, will be great for story-telling but minimal in its result. 

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