Inside the Capitol

Monday, March 01, 2010

Hawauu ready For Tsunami

WED, 3-03-10

SANTA FE - Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted to experience an earthquake, a tornado and a hurricane. My mother always was embarrassed when I would mention it in polite company. My wife just ignores me There are other things that bother her more.
I attribute it to a lifelong desire to be Anderson Cooper. I got my opportunity to be in a hurricane. It was about 20 years ago on Sanibel Island, off the West Coast of Florida. Fortunately Jeanette was not there. Most participants had escaped early leaving only me and about a dozen others who knew how exciting a hurricane party can be.
I was not disappointed. It only was a Category 1 hurricane so no one got hurt. A friend who is even crazier than I drove us around the island watching palm fronds rub against power lines until transformer boxes got overcharged and exploded in beautiful greens and yellows.
Back then I didn't know about tsunami's or I would have had one of those on my list. But they just seemed too distant to ever fantasize about. Oh, I'd heard of a tsunami. One year, at our favorite island retreat on Maui, the resort manager announced we had a fellow guest who was an entertainer - all the way from Carlsbad, New Mexico.
That was impressive but it seemed unusual that the singer/guitarist wanted to perform at the end of the property farthest from the beach. I asked him about it and he said he was deathly afraid of tsunamis. He said he could visualize one coming at him between Molokai and Lanai, which at that time were framing a beautiful sunset.
I told him when I saw the wave hitting Molokai and Lanai, I could head up Pineapple Hill, which begins just across the street and outrun it. He said he was moving to the Ritz Carleton up the street.
The Mauian, where we stay was grandfathered in when the ordinance was passed requiring a 50-foot setback for hotels. We stay in the unit right next to the beach - a sidewalk's width away.
And so, early on the first morning of our stay in paradise, a knock on our door at 5 a.m. brought the news of an earthquake in Chile and an approaching tsunami. I said I'd never seen a tsunami so please wake me when it comes.
"No, suh," came the reply. "Mandatory evacuation, immediately. Take all your belongings. "We were given maps to the highest of the PGA golf courses at Kapalua. The route took us by the entry to the Ritz Carleton.
I figured if the Ritz was high enough for the guy from Carlsbad, who obviously had studied the situation, it would keep the tsunami from wetting my toes. We wheeled into valet parking. I flipped the attendant a nice tip and asked him to park it on high ground.
After a bit of searching, we found the ideal tsunami-watching location. It was called The Terrace Bar, overlooking the beach and with a large flat-screened TV in just the right spot.
Only one problem - the bar didn't open for several hours. I asked to see the manager and explained how he could take advantage of the situation by having a tsunami party and charging exorbitant prices. He agreed with all but one point. The drinks were free.
And that is when I began to appreciate Hawaii's handling of a tsunami. Subsequent conversations with locals, long-term vacationers and tourists like us brought some insights.
Many locals heard the news of the Chilean earthquake before 1 a.m. and began notifying their families. They were stocked up with food, water and gasoline by 5 a.m. when tourists were notified.
The tsunami sirens started at 6 a.m. Evacuations preceded in an orderly manner. A couple from Connecticut, renting a townhouse for three months, invited us to spend the night.
Fortunately nothing happened. But if it had, Hawaii would have been ready.



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