28 Oct, 2012 - “I’m sorry to have to interrupt your meal, Sir, Ma’am, but we’re going to have to close the restaurant due to a tsunami warning. Waikiki is currently being evacuated.”
Peter and I looked at each other incredulously. Had we heard right? Thankfully, Nobu was on the ground floor of our hotel, the Waikiki Parc. I quickly ducked out of the restaurant and confirmed the news with hotel reception.
“Yes, Ma’am, that’s right. An earthquake has been reported in British Columbia. As a result, a tsunami warning has been issued for Waikiki and the first wave is due to hit at 10:30 this evening. However, our hotel is not being evacuated. We advise all guests to go to their rooms and listen to updates on the radio and TV. The hotel will also be issuing updates over the PA system for its guests.”
As it turned out, a sizable 7.7-magnitude earthquake in western Canada triggered a tsunami that was headed towards Hawaii. Geophysicists feared waves between 3 and 7 feet to lash the Hawaii islands, beginning about 10:28 p.m. local time Saturday (4:28 a.m. Sunday ET).
What followed for us as travelers who had never experienced a tsunami warning before was more than a little disturbing. Bunkering down in our room on the 17th floor, the hotel PA system issued an update on the tsunami every 15 minutes, jolting us awake violently every time we managed to doze off. We were advised to remain calm, to make sure that we located the flash lights in our rooms, and to fill our bath tubs with water. Guests were also advised not come down to the lobby as the elevators would be shut down at 10 pm and hotel staff would be occupying rooms on the 8th floor.
Listening to the tsunami alarms and police sirens wailing over Waikiki, we watched a traffic nightmare unfold over television, with cars jamming up the main arteries out of the city as people searched for higher ground. One North Shore road reported to be jammed in both directions-- one group of residents evacuating while another group drove up to Haleiwa to see the surge. Sleep did not come to us easily.
Early this morning, the Hawaii tsunami warning that spurred coastal evacuations statewide was downgraded to a tsunami advisory (a lower level alert), ending the threat of serious damage less than three hours after the first waves hit the islands. Mercifully, the first waves were smaller than expected.
The morning was as picture perfect as one could get in Waikiki. Breakfasting at Duke's, I gazed over swaying palm trees and an expanse of white sand stretched on either side of Waikiki Beach while Peter took a dip in the tranquil turquoise waters. It was hard to imagine the drama that unfolded the night before, although the half moons under my eyes and shaking hands told a different story. Having survived the particularly violent typhoon Yoling in Manila (Philippines) in 1970, when the roof of our family home blew off, the traumatic memories of a natural disaster were still deeply etched into my psyche. Running into Steve, one of our favorite waiters at Duke's, I asked him how he survived last night's chaos.
"Oh, I was in bed by 8:30. Living in the islands, you just get used to it. It happens all the time.", he explained.
Used to it indeed. I guess everything is relative. I was nevertheless relieved that airports had re-opened today and that we would be flying back home to Oz tomorrow. In times like these, there’s no place like home.