Friday, March 11, 2011

Hawaii Tsunami

Unless you've been living under a rock, by now you know about the horrible quake and tsunamis that shattered Japan last night. For my family and I visiting the big island of Hawaii (including my dad, sister, step mom, step siblings and their families), last night was certainly more exciting than I'm comfortable with.

We'd spent the day in Kona, eating lunch at Bubba Gump's and shopping for some souvenirs. When we arrived back at the hotel we had a late dinner out at the fancy surfside restaurant here, bathed by a warm Trade wind while tiki torches flickered amongst the hibiscus flowers. Just another gorgeous evening in paradise. Or so we thought.

Someone took our reserved table, so we didn't get seated until 9, very late for the little ones we had with us (my two weasels, and two two-year-olds). About ten minutes before our mains arrived, Dave Ritchie, founder and former CEO of Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers, came over to tell us there'd been a massive quake in Japan, and powerful tsunamis were on their way toward us.

My face blanched. I literally felt the blood drain from it. All I could think about was the Boxing Day tsunamis in Thailand/Indonesia a few years back. With an 8.9 quake sending waves at us and nothing but open ocean standing in their way... Yup, I was already making evacuation plans in my head.

Big weasel didn't understand the magnitude of the threat (he's 7), but since he was running a fever with a sore throat, hubby took him up to the room early. I stayed with little weasel (not quite 5) and wolfed down what should have been a decadent dinner of beef tenderloin and lobster tail. Afterward I took him straight up to the room, going past the front desk on my way. People were milling about already, and their concern was palpable. One lady was in tears.

I went straight up to the room, turned on the news, saw the pictures of the tsunami in Japan, and started packing. No evacuation orders had been issued yet, but I'm not the type to take any chances, especially with my little guys. Then the tsunami alarm sirens went off at 10, and that sealed the deal. Hubby and I packed up pillows, blankets, clothes, ID, food and water. And some TP. If I'm going to have to do my business and wipe my bits and pieces out in the great outdoors, I'd just as soon have TP to wipe with.

A couple minutes later the phone rang. My dad, saying the rest of our group (13 in total) was planning to head for higher ground, and that I should pack emergency supplies. I almost snorted. Did he not realize who he was talking to? He's only known me for 36 years.

By this time the weasels were scared to death. I had two sets of huge blue eyes fixed on me as I packed. When they saw me shoving things into a bag, they quickly dumped their stuffed toys into their backpacks and stood by the door with anxious expressions. While hubby left to start packing the car, I tried to calm them down, explaining the waves wouldn't hit for at least another four hours, maybe more. We had lots of time, and it was important to be calm in the meantime. We had a plan to get everyone to safety, and we were acting on it. Was I scared, though? Hell yeah. None of us knew what to expect or how bad it was going to be. If it was going to be a repeat of the Thailand/Indonesia tsunamis...

And then little weasel broke my heart. Standing by the door with his running shoes on and his little backpack strapped to his shoulders, he looked up at me with brimming eyes and said, "Can we just go, now? I don't want to swim--I don't know how to swim!" Big weasel joined in, begging me to just go, go now and get in the car and get away from this place. Talk about a punch to the gut. I thank God we had enough warning to get packed and make it to somewhere safe. People in Japan weren't as lucky.

A mandatory evacuation order was given soon after that, but we were already packing up the cars. Our rental, and an SUV for the rest of our group. The hotel guests were stressed; you could feel the tension as people prepped to leave. The adrenaline was pumping pretty hard, and we still had four hours until the first wave was expected to hit. We were parked at the curb waiting for my step siblings to get their babies into the SUV with all their gear, and a bus driver stopped near us. He opened his door and brusquely said, "You guys better move that thing, or I'm taking it out." Nice. Like we weren't stressed enough.

The minute we left the hotel and started for higher ground, I felt better. The weasels were absolutely silent in the backseat as we headed down they highway and then inland, up the mountain. We stopped at 1,000 feet, since my sister, step sister and her hubby had been scuba diving earlier in the evening and couldn't ascend past that altitude. I tell you what, I felt ever so much safer up the hill parked next to that horse pasture at the side of the road than I did back at the hotel.

We spent a very cramped night in the car, and only the weasels slept a little. I made good use of my TP stock, which took me back to my days as a Girl Guide. Peeing outside turned out to be the weasels' favorite part of the whole experience :)

None of us knew how bad the damage was down along the coastline, but as we listened to the news reports over the radio, it varied from area to area. Bubba Gump's, where we'd eaten lunch the day before, was heavily damaged by the waves, along with some of Kona. We got conflicting reports about the damage levels to our hotel, but weren't allowed to go back because waves were still coming in and the state officials hadn't issued the "all clear" yet. The SUV's battery had died overnight, so hubby took us into town to get some jumper cables, and after the others were good to go, we found a Subway for breakfast. Information was sketchy; someone reported damage to our hotel and that we wouldn't be allowed back for hours yet. Police were turning people back from the area.

Eventually the tsunami warning was lifted and we went back to the hotel, not knowing what we'd find. Turned out there was no damage to the buildings, but the man-made beach was damaged and they'd lost some furniture to the tsunami. The images of the devastation in Japan are heartbreaking, and I'm so thankful we were all safe up on that hillside. Turned out we would have been safe at the hotel, but even in hindsight I'm glad we evacuated. My heart goes out to the people of Japan affected by this disaster, and all their loved ones.

So we're all safe and sound, and there might even be a future book in this somewhere down the road. My family kept teasing me about that, and asking if I'll ever travel again after this. Wouldn't you know something like this would happen while I'm here? But you know, suddenly the thought of getting on a plane doesn't seem so bad anymore.


Zosia said...

I was thinking about you over there! (And thinking that maybe the plane won’t sound so bad to you anymore.)
We were watching it all unfold live on television here. Japan’s only a couple of hours behind us. I was in India during the Boxing Day Tsunami – about 13000 people were killed in the south of the country then.

Wynter Daniels said...

Glad you are okay. That must have been so scary.

Toni Anderson said...

You did the right thing. Well done. Glad you are safe. Now enjoy your holiday!

Loni said...

Thank you for letting us know you are all okay. One of the first things I thought when I heard the news was that you were still in Hawaii and I didn't know what part. And in my heart I knew you were all okay- so I didn't let myself think about it again until I read this post. And through my tears and heartbreak (and my refusal to watch or listen to any footage lest I succumb to days of endless crying and ptsd), my sensitive soul can only say that I'm happy you are all safe.

Kaylea Cross said...

Hey Zosia. Man, excitement loves me a lot more than I love it :) And last night if you'd given me the option of evacuating to the mountains or hopping on an outgoing flight, I'd have been all over that plane ride. That's saying something!

Thanks, Wynter. It was pretty scary, but only because we didn't know if it would be catastrophic or not.

Thanks Toni. More fodder for my writing, yes?

Aw, Loni, you little sweetheart. We're all okay, but it's so hard to see those pictures coming out of Japan. Those poor people didn't have a chance.

Katie Reus said...

I'm so glad you're safe!! If I hadn't gotten that response text from Todd I would have been freaking out. Can't wait til you're back home. Safe travels :)