As most of you know, last night was a rough one for those of us in Hawai’i. Being the most isolated island chain on the planet, we take on a huge risk when natural “disasters” come into play (if our airports or harbors were to be destroyed, we’d have no way of receiving the resources necessary to sustain us all). Those of us who have grown up here – or lived here for years – know very well what it’s like to prepare for hurricanes, tsunamis and tropical storms.
When I was a kid, my grandparents taught me how to tape the windows and prepare food before a hurricane hit. I vividly remember my Grandma telling me a story about tsunamis/tidal waves that I will never forget: She said that, in the case of a tidal wave, never never never go near the ocean. She explained that many people get lured in by the receding tide because they want to pick up the shells and fish left behind, but by the time they’re on the sand, the wave comes back with so much force it kills them (I’m not sure if she personally knew someone who died this way, but she was my all-knowing Grandma, so I assume she did). I should probably also mention that my grandma had a severe fear of ever having to go without food [perhaps PTSD from WWII in Hawai'i?], and as such always had an entire room filled with food, water, toilet paper, etc. I’m totally serious. An entire room.
I also have a vivid memory from my 11th grade Marine Science class. After teaching us about ocean “disasters”, my teacher said that my generation had been particularly fortunate because we had never experienced devastation from a natural disaster (we had only seen one hurricane in the early 90s which killed 6 people on Kauai, and the last big tidal wave to hit the islands was back in 1946). We had all been through countless “warnings” and “advisories”, but had never seen true devastation, which sort of jaded us all [every single time they tell us it's going to be huge we evacuate from low ground, have to stay inside all day, and then it ends up being nothing, so why even evacuate??]. My teacher went on to explain tectonic plates, earthquakes, cycles, and the like, and then – in a very serious tone – said that Hawai’i was far overdue for a natural disaster. And then he made us promise that – when we hear the emergency sirens – we’ll evacuate. Because you just never know when the conditions are going to line up perfectly to take out thousands of people. Fair enough.
“The poetry of the earth is never dead.” -John Keats
Last night, I left the valley around 6.30 after teaching a TurboKick class to arrive (late) to a presentation about raising healthy kids naturally. The presentation was set to end at 9pm, but as the presenter kept speaking, I heard my phone vibrate in my purse. Mom had sent me a text at 9:02: “Going to Stevie’s… tsunami alert for 3 am… HUGE earthquake in Japan… 8.9!”
Because I’ve been through so many alerts, I remained calm, but Ben was immediately on the phone with Mom getting details and planning to pick up Zak, who lives near the ocean and doesn’t have transportation right now. We were already on higher ground and since we live up high I wasn’t worried. We left the talk around 9:45 or so (after helping to clean up) and got stuck in traffic on the two-lane road heading home (we never see traffic on this road) because there were already incredibly long lines at the gas stations.
I truly don’t know why people’s first thought when there’s a natural disaster coming is to purchase gasoline, but apparently it’s a big deal. My first reaction to the idea of a natural disaster that big coming was honestly to eat [and this is how we know I'm an emotional eater!]. The moment we got in the house I told Ben I needed chocolate [what?!]. After a few pieces, we got online and checked to see what was happening (we don’t have a TV), and that’s when we were inundated with heart-wrenching footage from Japan.
That’s really when it hit home. An 8.9 earthquake (one of the highest ever recorded) in a country that shares an ocean with us. We all know what it looks like when we’re in a bathtub and splash our fist in with force. That force was the earthquake. That tub is the Pacific. And we’re smack-dab in the center of it all.
After watching about 10 minutes of devastating footage from Japan, I told Ben we needed to shut it off and just send as much love as we could to our fellow Pacific islanders. It was all we could do to check in with everyone (my brother had already headed to higher ground on Hawai’i island, friends and family were all safe, and Zak was safely out of the evacuation zone) and then try to relax.
Ben promptly fell asleep (he’s really good at that), but my mind kept racing, thinking of all those poor people in Japan and how easily that could have been us, since we experience so many earthquakes with Kilauea erupting. I read a book for about an hour and then dozed off… but my dreams were vivid depictions of me drowning, panicking as I had to reverse through the mountains to get away from a huge wave, and then eating painfully huge amounts of chocolate [I know, I have some serious chocolate issues].
I woke up at 1 am, then again at 2. I paced for a while and then tried to head back to sleep, but by 2:45 I figured it was time to check the footage. I watched live coverage of what was happening on ‘O’ahu – the incredible ebb and flow – and then, around 4 am, I said a huge thank You! and fell back asleep.
By 6 am, I was ready to head to my Uncle’s to watch the footage on a real TV and see what the damage was. I sat – exhausted – with my equally exhausted family, as the news showed images from each island. I couldn’t help but offer up thanks to Mother Nature for sparing us once again. I am also so grateful for the incredible amount of text messages and emails Ben and I both received from friends and family around the world throughout the night. I’m positive your thoughts and love kept us safe.
So, here we are. It is an absolutely gorgeous day on Maui (which really just goes to show how mysterious Mother Nature truly is), the island is still on Tsunami Advisory [because of all the aftershocks in Japan - imagine that bathtub again, but keep pushing the water over and over now], and most of us have been given the day off. They’re still assessing damage on each island, but it seems that Lahaina and Kahului Harbor here on Maui as well as Kona on Hawai’i Island got hit the hardest. The tide continues to ebb and flow in weird patterns [which means that, even with the day off, nobody will be at the beach today], and it seems that everyone I know is exhausted both physically and mentally.
[A honu being taken back to the ocean after being washed up near Kanaha on Maui.]
I’d trade a “snow day” for a “tsunami day” any day. It’s really hard to enjoy an unexpected three-day weekend when it’s charged with so much emotion and panic.
I can’t express how grateful I am to being able to say that my generation still has yet to see a devastating natural disaster for Hawai’i (debris is easy to clean up), but my heart aches for Japan. It really makes me think about what is important in life when possessions and even people can be washed away in an instant.
Sending love and light to you all, today. May we never lose sight of what is truly important in our lives.
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