Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One week after the tsunami

Last Thursday night we were just getting settled for bed when the tsunami sirens sounded. We immediately got up to figure out what was going on. Although the sirens are tested each month, severe tsunamis are actually quite rare in Hawaii (the last one was in 1960). Ken turned on the television and I hopped online to check the USGS site and we quickly learned that the massive quake in Japan had caused a tsunami that was headed for the Hawaiian islands. The civil defense was recommending that all shoreline residents evacuate and move a half mile inland.

Luana Inn is not in the evacuation area. The evacuation area in our neighborhood runs along the shore at the bottom of Napoopo’o Road, .8 mile away from us. The Inn is more than a safe distance away, and is located up a very steep hill on a cliff. In other words, we were in no danger here.

The tsunami was predicted to hit Hawaii at about three am, and apparently reached the Big Island at about five am. We watched the news for awhile, and then went to bed. The next morning, the reef was briefly visible in Kealakekua Bay, and there was some debris in the bay. On Saturday we drove up to Kailua and headed back down Alii Drive to survey damage. Although water did come up over the rock wall onto Alii Drive in town, there was surprisingly little visible damage. There was some sand on the road and part of the rock wall that runs along the shore had been broken, but there were tons of people out and about and it otherwise looked like a normal, bustling Saturday afternoon. Huggo’s, Lava Java, Bubba Gump Shrimp and the surrounding shopping area with Blue Water Fantasies Jewelry and Kaiso, and most of the shops on those portions of Alii Drive were open. The Kona Inn and the little shopping area that it is located in further north were closed. Kona Inn will re-open this weekend.

As we drove Alii Drive towards Keauhou and looked at the beaches and homes along the road it was clear that the water had risen and moved debris around. Rocks had been brought up onto Magic Sands Beach, but people were still out sunbathing and enjoying themselves. Homes looked fine. Some pole homes where lawn furniture or wood had been stored underneath clearly had had such items shifted around. Kahalu’u Beach in the Keauhou Resort area was closed and it looked like some rocks had been shifted there as well.

As far as the northeastern coast of the Big Island, we have learned that The Four Seasons Hualalai and the Kona Village have both endured damage.

The part of the island hardest hit was actually the Kealakekua Bay area down through Pu’uhonua O Honaunau. After surveying Alii Drive to Keauhou, we then drove to the Manini Beach area and discovered that Manini Beach has been transformed. Several homes on the water were severely damaged and the vacation rental right on Manini Beach was lifted off its foundation and washed out to sea. The DLNR and Coast Guard are still assessing damage and have put a plan into place to remove the house. A major neighborhood effort is being made to quickly clean up the area. We have seen a steady stream of kayak-tour traffic down our road and saw that kayaks were indeed still being rented as of Saturday. According to one of the most popular snorkel tour companies, the water had already cleared as of Saturday and it was business as usual. Parts of the City of Refuge National Park are closed temporarily for clean-up and damage assessment, but the Wednesday evening program is still on and the next one is set for March 23 at 6 pm and is called: “Coral Spawning this spring – the Life of the Reef”. Rangers plan to re-open the park completely within two weeks. We have heard that Two Step and Hookena are fine, but will post more information as we learn more.

We are extremely thankful that Hawaii endured such minimal damage. We never lost power, always had water and cable and phone service, no one was killed or seriously injured. Some homes did indeed experience severe damage, there are clearly businesses that have been effected in Kailua, and some of the natural shoreline has been visibly altered, but the major damage to the Big Island will be the drop in tourism if mainland people become fearful to travel here based on incorrect information.

People should not be afraid to come to Hawaii. Natural disasters can happen anywhere, and Hawaii is not an unusually dangerous place. The island is still breathtakingly beautiful, there are still amazing things to see here, the weather is perfect – none of this has changed. We are sitting here, in this stunning house, with its gorgeous guest rooms and glorious ocean view, the sun is shining, the ocean looks like blue satin, and the phone isn’t ringing. This is the most worrying thing in the aftermath of the tsunami for Hawaii.

We also need to turn our attention to Japan, which has endured major devastation. Hawaii has a very strong connection to Japan and it is to our Japanese brothers and sisters to whom we must now send our aid, or thoughts and our prayers. This is not a time to be fearful, but to move forward.

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