City On The Edge
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Josh at
written by Josh:
founded 2004 by ron cruger
A place for intelligent writers
A place for intelligent readers
5:59AM: It’s quiet all across the city. The sun is just beginning to peek up over the horizon, painting brilliant amber streaks across the sky. Palm fronds drag in the gentle breeze. Waves lap up and down on Oahu’s southern shore. It’s one of those moments that people all want experience but can never get up for.
6:00AM: The siren goes off over Honolulu. A wail, a long, monotone wail. Gone is the peaceful morning. Gone is the comfortable silence across the city. One siren, then another and another until the whole island is howling.
In Kahala, a resort town on the island's south shore sits a modern Hawaiian beach home, one of many along the coast. The siren shrieks through the neighborhood, waking its occupants. Windows light up, televisions go on.
6:01AM: Nahoa Stevens is up and out of bed. The flatscreen on the wall comes to life. The local news on KHNL says that a tsunami is on its way after a massive 9.7 earthquake has hit Japan earlier that morning. High definition images of destruction in Toyko flash onscreen. No one’s sure yet how big the wave is going to be, only that it’s big, and that there’s no time to waste. Estimated time of arrival to the islands is 9:20AM. As usual, Kauai is expected to get hit first, Oahu following about ten minutes later.
He jumps into a pair of jeans and hurriedly gets his two sons out of bed. They're already up when he reaches their door.
"What's going on, Daddy?" Asks Tommy, his youngest.
At only eight years of age, he’d never experienced anything like it. He’d only heard the sirens go off when they tested them at the beginning of every month. The last tsunami had hit way before he was born.
"There's a tsunami coming in, bud, we have to be ready.” Nahoa sat down on his bed, “Everything is going to get dark for a little bit, but don't worry, it's all just precautionary. Nothing to fear. The city's been designed to handle this."
“Are we going to be okay?” Spencer, his oldest stood in the doorway.
Spencer was fourteen, therefore had been around the last time a tsunami hit the islands, though he didn’t remember much since he’d only been five at the time. That, however, had been been the result of a 6.0 magnitude earthquake in the Pacific and the wave had veered off before ever hitting Hawaii. This was different.
“We’ll be fine.” Nahoa assured both of them, “I do want both of you out of bed and ready to run just in case something does happen, but don’t worry too much about it, okay?”
Both boys nodded. Spencer retreated to his room while Tommy climbed out of bed, grabbed some clothes, and made his way to the bathroom. Nahoa got up and went out into the living room. He picked up his phone and quickly tapped out a text to his wife, letting her know everything was okay. Randy was in San Francisco on business and wouldn’t be back until the following Monday. In a way that was good.
He looked out the windows at the panoramic view before him. Just across the yard, hundreds of miles of ocean stretched out before them. He wondered what a tsunami wave would look like from there. Seeing it get larger and larger as it swooped across the ocean in a matter of minutes.
A hundred years ago, the whole coastline from Hawaii Kai to Pearl Harbor would have been obliterated. Back then, the city hadn’t been designed for this, hadn't been engineered for this. The multi-million dollar homes in Kahala, the billion dollar hotels in Waikiki, the airport just to the west would have all been destroyed. He couldn't imagine what it must have been like for islanders back in the 1900’s and 2000's.
Nahoa ran to the garage. He usually left the door open; there was a gate at the street that kept the compound secured so really there was no need to seal off the garage every night. His Range Rover and the wife's Lexus were parked far enough back that he could close the door. It had to be closed for the whole system to activate.
Mission Control, as he liked to call it, was in the garage. It was the home’s brain, so to speak. All homes in the last fifty years had been built with such a system in place.
"What's going to happen, daddy?" Tommy asked, walking into the garage, followed by his older brother.
Nahoa pulled up the home's dashboard on the flat screen and quickly locked it down and prepared the home to enter what was called Bunker Mode. The system was performing millions of calculations and operations per second. A glowing green halo appeared around the word Set.
“Tap that, buddy.” Nahoa said, lifting Tommy up so that he could reach it.
The second his little finger made contact with the screen, the sound of whirring gears and hydraulic lifts began to fill the home.
“What’s going on?” Tommy asked, looking around, still holding onto his father’s neck.
The house began to sink into the ground. Nahoa set Tommy back down and ushered them back into the house. It would be the coolest to watch from the back of the house where they could see the ocean.
“Whoa.” Spencer stood at the kitchen window, leaning on the sink, “It’s like the whole house is an elevator.”
All three watched out the bay windows as ground level rose. Ground level wasn’t really rising, they were sinking, but it felt as if it was. The mock orange bushes that skirted the house rose up to the window sills, then slowly above them. In about five minutes, the entire two-story home was underground. Nahoa could hear the air lock beginning to seal the edges the roof, now the only thing above ground.
Systems like this were the standard now for homes in the inundation zones and he could understand why. It cost a good sum to have an entire bunker built to hold the home, not to mention the mechanics required to lower the house into it. But even then, the cost paled in comparison to the amount it would take to rebuild the entire home.
The home went dark for a few seconds. The city had shut off the electricity to prevent any potential hazard from transformers that could get damaged in the storm. The system then began to draw power from its backup supply, fueled by the solar cells mounted on the roof. It was enough to fully power the home for five hours.
For the next few hours, the two boys sat around the living room, keeping an ear on the news that Nahoa had left on, in the interim listening to their father tell them about his childhood and the tsunamis he had been through. He showed them photos from his father and grandfather. His grandfather had lived through not only tsunamis but hurricanes that had hit Hawaii. Way back in 1992 there had been one called Iniki that had devastated Kauai.
Tommy and Spencer flipped through old photo albums. It seemed strange, in a way, to be looking at photos from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. That was so long ago. They’d both been born in the 2100’s. They saw pictures of their grandpa and grandma shopping at something called Sears at Ala Moana. Ala Moana was still there, but they had no idea what this Sears thing was.
Their trip down memory lane was interrupted when the house began to tremble. Tommy grabbed onto his brother’s arm, frightened. He knew the house was sealed off and that the mechanical structure holding them in place was sound but even then it felt as though the whole house was going to collapse in on them.
“Is that the tsunami hitting?” Spencer called out over the noise of glass clattering, beams creaking, and the rumbling overhead of the ocean.
“Yep! Hold on tight! Here it comes!” Nahoa shouted to the two of them. Everything began to shake even more violently. It was like an earthquake was hitting the coast.
He turned on the television and pulled up the streams from the security cameras mounted on the palm trees around the compound. Even through the somewhat grainy picture they could see the wave approaching on the horizon. It grew larger with every passing minute until finally it appeared a wall of water sailing in for impact.
“That’s insane.” Spencer murmured as he watched twelve feet of water smash the coastline and wash right over their heads.
One camera went dark.
“What happened?” Tommy asked.
“The tree it’s mounted on probably got knocked down.” Nahoa replied, “We’ll have to clean that up later.”
For the next half hour, they stayed put, their eyes glued to the flat screen, switching between their own cameras and the local news. KHNL had their choppers up in the air and were broadcasting live footage of the wall of water washing over the runway at the airport, through Hickam military base, through the streets of downtown Honolulu, down the main drag in Waikiki, around the southern coast of Diamond Head, and in their own neighborhood of Kahala. But everywhere the wave hit, there was no damage.
The airport had its own series of bunkers beneath the tarmac, similar to the system holding their home underground, only on a much larger scale. Aircraft were in a holding pattern above the airport. Back in the 1900s and 2000s, they would have run out of fuel. Nowadays, aircraft could lift off at a vertical ninety degrees and hover in place until brought back down again. Buildings downtown and in the tourist district of Waikiki had activated their own defenses, activating strengthened building structures and rubberized seals around the lower five floors of each building. Underground parking garages were locked down and sealed tight. Every home along the coast had descended into its own underground bunker. Almost like rabbits retreating into their burrows.
It was some sight. Nahoa watched intently. He knew he might not see anything as impressive as this again in his lifetime. Maybe someday, but not someday soon.
It made news headlines around the world. The tsunami in Hawaii was being called the encore to the deadly earthquake in Japan. Japan may have been devastated, but except for a few downed trees and some sand and seaweed on the streets, an entire city had survived the tsunami with zero fatalities, zero injuries, and zero damage.
Nahoa and his sons looked outside, just as soon as the home had emerged from its bunker. The ocean had recessed back to its normal lazy tide, the sun was shining, and he could hear birds chirping. It was as if the tsunami had never hit. It was once again a beautiful day in paradise.