Here We Go Again
Candace Nippolt
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written by Candace:
Waiting for the tsunami
My Father's Clock
Doing the laundry and reading Virgil
Thursday, March l0, 8:30 p.m.

        I am sitting in an elegant townhouse halfway up the Kalani Valley on the south side of Oahu. It's the home of the hostess for this month's meeting of my book club. I'm discussion leader for Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, a fictional account of the life of Thomas Cromwell. I'm deep into Tudor politics when cell phones start to ring.
       “There's an earthquake and tsunami in Japan.”
       “It's 8.9. A bad one.”
       “Tsunami headed for Hawaii by 3 a.m.”
       We don't panic. We're used to news like this. Hawaii is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. A seismic event near South America, Indonesia, Japan, China or Alaska sends waves to our outpost in the middle of the Pacific like the ever widening circles caused by throwing a pebble in a pond.
       A number of us live near the water on this side or that of this island. We all know where the inundation areas are: maps are printed in the front of the telephone book.
Having thrashed out all our opinions of the book, everyone drains wine glass or coffee cup and heads for home.
       By the time I've crossed over the Koolau Mountain Range, turned onto Kahekili Highway and am into the home stretch, my public radio station is issuing alerts. My home is in Kahaluu, a few miles down the coast, on the windward side. As I near the intersection by the Hygienic Store and the gas station, police are directing traffic. People are gassing up or are headed to a grocery store to stock up on water, batteries, rice, saimin, and of course, beer.
       It is now 10:30 a.m.
       When I get home, my husband, John, is already asleep. I wake him up and turn on the televison.
       “I know. Earthquake and tsunami in Japan.”
       “I'm going to watch the news.”

       “I'm going back to sleep.”
       Hawaii has had more than one devastating tsunami and we pay attention. We have a first-class tsunami warning center at Ewa Beach, which is so good it helped the Indonesian government set up a similar system after its catastrophic event of a few years ago.
       The mellowness of the wine I've drunk goes fast as I watch film of what's happening in Japan. Oh, Lord, I've got a friend in Tokyo—I've got to send an email.
I wake my husband again and he tells me friends have called, including my stepdaughter who lives on the Big Island, the scene of two really bad tsunamis in recent memory. She lives away from Hilo and won't get touched.
       Over and over the news repeats the info that this is the worst earthquake/tsunami event to hit Japan in 300 years. In the 1920's, Tokyo, then a city of wood, was badly wrecked in a great earthquake. One of the few buildings that survived was Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel. Made of concrete using the latest technology of the time, the hotel weathered the event well.
       The mayor, the governor, police chief, fire chief, head of civil defense [headquartered in the dormant crater of Diamond Head], and meteorologists galore fill the screen. Provisions for our precious visitors are reviewed, shots of long lines at gas stations and grocery stores, police roadblocks being set up in areas which could become flooded and numerous reporters heads appear.
       It's now around 1 a.m. It's a balmy night with sprinkles of rain. Sirens are going off regularly. Bullhorns on civil defense vehicles urge evacuation to higher ground.
But we're not going yet. We want to wait for the reports from our early warning posts, Wake and Midway islands. Also, what are our deep sea buoys saying. Local boats prpare to leave the closing harbors across all islands and try to ride it out at sea.
       “Remember a tsunami is not one wave, it's a series of varying strength. It's not like big wave surf on the North Shore. The length of these waves is longer than the entire Island chain, and it will wrap itself around each island.”
“Wake, Midway, up one, two, three—six feet. But we can't really use them as models. They are small islands, our topography is different, Could be a lot bigger here,”
       It is now 2:30 a.m. The first wave is due to hit Kauai at 3 and Oahu some minutes later. There won't really be time between when Kauai is touched to analyse wave heights before it is upon us.. ....
       It's very, very quiet outside. I wake up John again and ask if he thinks we could just go up to our regular out of the path of disaster place for a bit and wait to see what happens.
       Down the road we go for a quarter mile and then turn up the road to Kahaluu Elementary School where we waited out the last tsunami event in February, 2010. Back then it was daylight, we could watch the ocean, people were gathered around and eating, like at a tailgate party. We park, listen to the news, watch helicopters watching the water of Kaneohe Bay, their powerful lights, cutting through the light rain. It's eerie. A few cars pass. Lots of us up here, cars pointed to the ocean none of us can see.
       It's 3:07 a.m.
       “No word from Kauai....still no word from Kauai. Anybody hearing anything from Kauai? Nothing's
happening on Kauai?'s 3:35 here...anything happening here?”
       Enough is enough. We're not going to wait for the all clear. We're too tired. Home we go. All is still.
Boy, that shower feels good....bed at last's after 4 a.m....the phone rings. ...stepson john calling from guys ok?....we're fine...thanks for calling.....plump the pillow, touch John...we're safe...everything is ok.
       5 p.m.---although our side of the island escaped damage, other parts of Oahu did not. Boat harbors on the north and south of the island experienced damaged piers and docks and boats. Maui got hit, too, with the most damage on the Big Island, homes, cars, boats, etc. Although a state of emergency has been declared here, we are in awe of what we are seeing in Japan. And I still have not heard from my friend in Tokyo
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Candace at
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