STAR-BULLETIN / 1960
The aftermath of the May 24, 1960, tidal wave in Hilo left shop owners along Hilo Bay with a huge mess to clean up.
Be prepared for a tsunami strike
There is a reason why April 1 is the beginning of Tsunami Preparation Month: Tomorrow is the anniversary of the deadliest tsunami in recorded Hawaii history. It was on April 1, l946, that an 8.6-magnitude earthquake near Alaska triggered the deadly wave that claimed the lives of 159 people in Hawaii.
The approach of a tsunami leaves little time to think, much less debate with neighbors about whether you should evacuate if you live near the ocean or streams that feed into the ocean. This is the time to heed the advice of longtime residents: Immediately run inland if you are near the ocean and begin seeing exposed reef as the water recedes to the sea. It WILL be back!
As a fairly new Haleiwa resident in the early '70s, I was arrested by the sight at the beach one day -- my favorite seaweeds were clearly visible on a now-exposed reef. Feeling so lucky, I walked down the steps and began to pick the tips of my favorites.
An elderly neighbor yelled at me but did not join me. She just got louder. Her expression grew intense as she motioned for me to join her.
I walked up the steps, extending my bucket to show her all the seaweed I had collected. She was NOT interested. She led me up more steps.
She might have saved my life. Had she not persisted, I could have been knocked over by the wave of water that followed. When we reached high ground, other neighbors came out and gave me the tsunami lecture. It's a quick lesson -- not easily forgotten.
Take it from this poster child: If you are new to the islands and see the waters suddenly retreating from shore, run as fast and as far as you can toward higher ground.
We now have more sophisticated warning systems and television service to rural areas, but you still need a plan for what you and your family would do in the event of a tsunami warning. How would you get out of your high-risk area? Share that plan with your family here as well as on the mainland. Make sure there is enough gas in your car to get away. Think ahead and make a list of what can be packed quickly.
COURTESY PACIFIC TSUNAMI MUSEUM
The great wave looms during the 1946 tsunami in Hilo.
Many North Shore folks are tempted to think they can always take Pupukea Road and keep going uphill. But it's easy to forget how quickly coastal roads become a parking lot when everyone tries to leave at the same time.
In the days of pineapple and sugar plantations, lunas in Waialua would immediately unlock private gates so folks had more ways to get to higher ground on cane and pineapple roads. The bypass road now in place will certainly help, but the reality is that there are only two main roads leading up and away from the North Shore on the Waialua side.
Also consider what irreplaceable items you'll want to throw in the car quickly. Whether it's genealogy files or photos, store them in plastic or metal containers that can be grabbed quickly on the way out.
The Hawaii State Civil Defense Web site is a gold mine of information, with links to the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Weather Center. A new tsunami curriculum is being developed for students, but anyone can check the site for preparedness information.
Use this time of raised awareness during April to go to plan an evacuation route if you live, commute or work near the ocean. Visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo for a sobering sense of reality. The museum offers a painful reminder of the devastation and confusion that comes with such disasters.
Today's warning systems will buy us time when a tsunami is generated by a quake or volcanic activity on the other side of the ocean, but an island-born quake gives us less time.
What would you pack for a quick retreat? Be thinking now!
teaches botany, ethnobotany and environmental science at Chaminade University. Her column runs on the last Monday of the month. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org