I was getting ready for bed when I heard of the tsunami. A 8.8 magnitude earthquake had just hit Chile and Hawaii was under a tsunami advisory. Twitter is a near instantaneous news source. Pajama-clad, I grabbed a blanket and headed down to the lounge, where a couple of my dorm mates were watching tv. At my request they switched over to the news.
Living in Ohio, I had always gotten a slight thrill out of tornado season. The skies would turn eerily green and the sirens would shriek and we’d all huddle down in the basement in front of the television. The town I grew up in was a tiny thing out in the middle of the country, but whenever they showed the tornado maps there we’d be, right in the middle of the storm. We’d watch and listen with baited breath as the newscasters announced a funnel cloud the next county over, a touchdown twenty miles out. And yet the storm would always seem to break up right before it reached us, and I’d spend the next few hours strangely disappointed, adrenaline coursing through my veins in preparation for a disaster that would never come.
Around 2am I finally gave up my tsunami vigil and decided to get some sleep. Contrary to their name, the news had nothing new to say. For the past month my weekends have been extremely busy, but for once I had no plans for that Saturday except to sleep in, rest, and maybe do some laundry. It was never meant to be.
The sirens woke me at 6am and I knew that the threat hadn’t lessened, had been upgraded to a tsunami warning. Twitter was abuzz with activity, not just fellow Hawaii residents but friends and family from outside the state expressing their concern. I called my Auntie T and was told that the family was heading inland, to my cousin’s house. She advised me to take a shower while I still could.
When the alarms sounded again at 7am I’d showered and filled my refrigerator with water (I knew saving all those empty bottles would pay off someday). I’d decided against a grocery store run, not wanting to get caught in the chaos. I had enough canned foods and peanut butter to last me a few days. My dorm is inland enough that it would be highly unlikely for the wave itself to be a problem; instead, the fear was a loss of power or water. I was reminded of last year, when the entire island lost power for a good twelve hours. At least now we’d had time to prepare.
By 8am I’d spoken to my mother and grandma in Ohio. It seemed the people outside of Hawaii were more worried than those of us under threat. It was a beautiful day, sunny, with little clouds. Although the coastal roads had been closed off, my neighborhood was still busy with cars and people. In my dorm, the students mostly went about their morning, although several pans of water appeared in the kitchen, and the dorm manager warned us that, worse case scenario, we should all meet up on the roof. Continuous updates came from televised and streaming web news reports. We were advised not to run water. So much for my plans of doing laundry.
The tsunami was expected to hit around 11am. I watched on the news as the water level began to change, dragging swiftly out to sea and then spilling back in again. The Ala Wai canal near where I used to live was near overflow, not a nice thought if you know how polluted it is. 11am came and went, and then noon. Although the shore definitely saw some changes, the dreaded giant wave never hit. By 2pm, the tsunami warning was canceled. After calling my mother to reassure her I was fine, I crawled back into bed to catch up on the sleep that had been stolen from me.
Several hours later I awoke to a quiet, cloudy day. Stores were reopening. People were going back to life as if nothing had ever happened. My dorm was planning a going away party for a resident who will soon be returning to his home country. When I went to the store to buy party supplies, I found it uncrowded, no barren spots from hoarders. We all cooked, and ate, and drank, and laughed, like nothing happened. Did nothing happen? It feels like forever ago.
Hawaii is a land of volcanoes, and earthquakes, and hurricanes, and tsunamis. Isolated in the middle of the Pacific, we are vulnerable, far from help, alone. On these islands, we have no choice but to ride out the storm, hope for the best, learn from the past, and keep on living.
It’s just another day in paradise.