Residents react when they discover â€˜this is not a drillâ€™
If they weren't already following the news of a possibly destructive tsunami generated by a massive earthquake in Chile, Maui County residents were jolted awake Saturday by civil defense sirens that sounded at 6 a.m. The sirens were just the beginning of waves of warnings and precautions in anticipation of a tsunami that eventually sent surges of ocean water up against the islands and into harbors. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning at 12:46 a.m., but no wave damage or injuries were reported when the tsunami arrived about 11 hours later. Janet Manibog, 57, of Kihei, got word of the potential tsunami earlier than most. She was awakened by a grandson around 2:30 a.m. She went back to sleep for a short while until another grandson woke her up again. " 'Grandma, you need to get up,' he told me. 'This is not a game. This is not a drill. It's for real,' " Manibog said. Jose Castellanos, a delivery driver for The Maui News, said a newspaper carrier alerted him to the tsunami warning early Saturday morning.
Delivering newspapers to carriers in South Maui around 3 a.m., Castellanos said he noticed more activity in buildings and on the road. "A lot of condos had their lights on, more than the usual," he said. "Normally I don't even see cars on the highways. Today there was a lot." Before long, residents were rushing to gas stations, lining up to fill their vehicles with fuel and to buy ice, water bottles and food. By 7 a.m., patrol officers in Lahaina had been working for several hours to evacuate beach parks and remote low-lying areas, said Capt. Charles Hirata, commander of the Lahaina Patrol District. Most people seemed to be aware of the tsunami warning. By 4:30 a.m., with many people heading from lower areas to the Kapalua-West Maui Airport, traffic was backed up on Akahele Road leading to the airport, said fire Battalion Chief Val Martin. He said there were plenty of other areas for people to move to higher ground. Maui Land & Pineapple Co. opened its mauka gates from Honokowai to Honolua, he said. Residents were being told to move to ground above Honoapiilani Highway. "Just go mauka," Martin said. "We're trying to get people above the highway." Lanai residents had already been evacuated from low-lying areas including Club Lanai and Shipwreck Beach, Martin said. On Molokai, he said, fire equipment and personnel from the Pukoo and Kaunakakai fire stations were moving to higher ground. "We want to be useful after the event," Martin said. "We don't want to be stuck in the mud."
At the Kahului Fire Station, firefighters worked to move equipment and personnel to the Fire Department's warehouse in the Waikapu light industrial area, said acting Battalion Chief Louis Romero. While the fire station on Dairy Road isn't in a tsunami zone, Romero noted that in the 1960 tsunami, water reached Christ the King Church, which is a few blocks away from the Kahului station. "We just want to be safe," Romero said. "We don't want to be victims; we want to be responders." The Fire Department's Air One helicopter was being used to do reconnaissance of shoreline areas. In addition to evacuating people from lower ground, police officers were making checks of long lines at gas stations "to make sure people don't get edgy out there," Hirata said. He said officers who were working overnight were being held over at work, while other officers were being called in to work early. Crowds of shoppers swarmed into the Safeway store in Kahului early Saturday morning, filling shopping carts with bottled water, toilet paper and canned goods in preparation for the possible tsunami strike. By 4 a.m., every available shopping cart was in use at the store. Other customers waited in the parking lot, helping departing shoppers unload their carts so they would have one to use in the store. In the store, lines were backed up at the checkout counters, but shoppers were patient and polite. Pallet after pallet of bottled water was wheeled out from the back of the store.
Duane Pagay of Kahului said he got to Safeway around 5 a.m., and he and his family had to grab shopping carts from customers coming out of the store. He and wife Johnalyn Lizada had cases of water, bread, apples and snacks for their children. Pagay said he had already been waiting in line to pay for 45 minutes. There were still 20 more people in front of him. Ana and Sisiteni Tupou of Waiehu had two suitcases in the back of their van in the Safeway parking lot. They said they were heading to a park in Kula with bread and other necessities to meet with other family members. Inside the Tesoro convenience store in Kahului, there weren't any lines but a steady stream of customers, workers said. Tesoro worker Lynneth Damo said customers were picking up water and food. "But the gas is making me crazy," she said, alluding to the lines outside. Costco in Kahului opened up two hours early at 7:30 a.m., said Manager Jaime Havron. Costco continued to have a lot of water, batteries and flashlights in stock, he said, adding that the store was getting a "fair amount" of customers. At McDonald's on Puunene Avenue, people waiting in line for their food kept tabs on the latest news on the tsunami from the television in the restaurant. Singapore visitor Rita Delos Santos sat with family and friends from Chicago and New York, waiting for their food. Delos Santos said family members had been staying in Lahaina when they learned of the tsunami warning.
"We decided to pack up early," she said. Delos Santos, who was making her first trip to Maui, said she wasn't afraid of the tsunami because she is originally from the Philippines. "We're used to crisis," she said. Thousands of island residents followed the advice of civil defense officials and sought higher ground. Every viewing spot along Kula Highway and Haleakala above Pukalani was lined with cars. Kula Lodge restaurant parking lots were overflowing, as were spaces at the Silversword restaurant just down the road. Traffic gridlock was reported on roads getting out of South Maui and on Upcountry roads. People and vehicles jammed into the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani, a passer-by said. Maui County announced road closures in low-lying areas as of 10 a.m. The Waiehu Golf Course closed, along with all county beach parks, state parks at Makena and Waianapanapa, and the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve. The University of Hawaii Maui College shut down, and officials announced that the much-anticipated, sold-out men's volleyball match between the University of Hawaii and Brigham Young University was canceled at War Memorial Gym. All county landfills closed, and the island's major shopping malls - including Queen Ka'ahumanu Center, Maui Mall and Whaler's Village - all announced closures in anticipation of the tsunami's arrival. All Maui Bus service was suspended, and the state Department of Education announced that all daytime events were canceled.
The public school events were to include a baseball tournament, Maui District History Day, a Kalama Intermediate School band performance and chicken dinner, and the Baldwin and the King Kekaulike high school sophomore banquets. "This decision honors the work of all emergency personnel and safety of our students and families," Maui District School Superintendent Bruce Anderson said. To protect its infrastructure, Maui County shut down sewage pump stations and water service in low-lying areas and, as of 9:45 a.m., asked residents not to flush toilets or send water down drains. Maui Electric Co. shut down its Kahului power plant near Kahului Harbor, but it was able to maintain electric service to the entire island with power from the Maalaea powergenerating facility, said company spokeswoman Kau'i Awai-Dickson. The shutdown began around 8:30 a.m. and took about two hours to complete, she said. Four workers staff the Kahului facility, and shutting it down allowed the building to be evacuated. The power facility was brought back up after the all-clear signal was issued at 1:38 p.m. Within an hour or two of the all-clear signal, water and sewage services were resumed, roads were reopened and shopping malls opened their doors. The tsunami even affected Maui residents on other islands. Lindsay Ball, the complex area superintendent for public schools in Lahaina, on Molokai and Lanai, and in Hana, was on Oahu on Saturday morning along with dozens of high school wrestlers entered in this weekend's state tournament.
"There's a little bit of confusion here," Ball said by cell phone as he and the wrestling contingent were walking to the Blaisdell Center around 7 a.m. Saturday. Within the same hour, Ball said he and the Maui wrestlers got word that the state wrestling competition had been officially rescheduled for 8:30 a.m. today. "Everybody's working feverishly on the phone to change flights and make other arrangements," Ball said. He said many of the parents had been calling the wrestling coaches to check the status of their children, who, according to Ball, were safe and out of harm's way. "We'll have to see what happens with this tsunami," Ball said. Christ the King School Principal Bernadette Lopez checked into her office at 5 a.m. and cleared out any "critical" documents at the school, which is within the tsunami inundation zone. "I'm real confident," Lopez said of her staff and students' response to the pending tsunami. She said a geophysicist from Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on Oahu visited her campus two weeks ago to provide information on tsunamis. "The message was to stay calm," Lopez recalled. "The idea was for the students to also be empowered that they could help their parents and provide correct information." Sacred Hearts School in Lahaina also recently received a visit from a tsunami expert and with officials with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Sacred Hearts Principal Susan Hendricks said she was feeling confident that her students and families were wellequipped to deal with the tsunami warning.
"I think they've been educated. They know not to panic," Hendricks said. Kahului Harbormaster Steve Pfister said there were no scheduled ship or barge arrivals at the harbor on Saturday. The harbor's two tugboats, the Tiger 8 and the Mamo, left the harbor around 10 a.m. to wait out the wave in open waters, he said. Harbor equipment was moved to higher ground. Kahului Airport Manager Marvin Moniz said it was business as usual at the airport before the arrival of the tsunami. Around 10:30 a.m., airport officials closed down roadway access to the airport. Flights in and out of the airport were not affected, officials said.
Maui calm as waves roll in
WAILUKU - Observers perched on Wailuku hillsides watched the surge of water roll into Kahului Harbor, and from above, it looked like swirling "eggbeaters" as a small tsunami struck Maui and the rest of the state Saturday. A 3.2-foot wave rolled into Kahului Harbor at 11:47 a.m., the largest surge recorded in the state. State civil defense officials canceled a tsunami warning for Hawaii at 1:38 p.m., but ocean users were still advised to stay out of the water due to continuing unusual currents and possible sewage contamination. At lookouts in Wailuku, observers could see the water level dropping in Kahului Harbor, followed by a surge that sent a line of whitewater up the harbor beach. A cloud of silt was visible in the harbor and grew larger with the subsequent surges, and observers saw choppy, roiling water near the harbor mouth.
In Hana, residents waiting out the tsunami on a hillside above town saw the water recede. "The two big rocks in Hana Bay, you could see them exposed, and the pilings for the pier went down, and the reef was exposed," said state Sen. J. Kalani English, who lives in Hana. "The second surge we saw was more intense. It went farther out and the reef was more exposed, and the third one was much more intense." The surge washed over part of Haneoo Road in Hamoa, spreading debris on the road and flooding the driveway of a nearby home, he said. In Central Maui, Mayor Charmaine Tavares got a bird's eye view of the event aboard a Black Hawk helicopter, after the National Guard invited her to ride along on a reconnaissance mission. "The water was being sucked out of (Kahului) Harbor," she said. "It made these swirly things with the mud and stuff, and it was really interesting. It was like two eggbeaters, and very choppy in the middle of it." After dropping in for a closer look at the piers, Tavares said, it was apparent that the tsunami's effects didn't have an "appreciable impact" on the harbor. The flyover also included a look at Molokai, where it was apparent that the water had receded to expose some reefs, and Kalaupapa, where the ocean did not rise past the high-tide mark. She also flew over West and South Maui. "Everything looked normal," she said. On Lunalilo Street above Baldwin High School, a crowd of residents had a good view of the action at Kahului Harbor, while they waited for the danger to pass so they could go back to their homes. "We were able to see the swells going in and out," said Francine Narito, who held an umbrella for shelter from the punishing sun, while her dachshund napped on the car seat beside her. The surge looked like a "ripple" as it moved through the harbor, she said. Chad Toyama said he could see the effects of the surge as he kept his eye on an outcropping of rocks that juts out into the harbor in front of the Maui Beach Hotel. "Slowly it disappeared and got covered by water," he said. A cloud of dirt and silt formed and grew between the surges, he said. "The bottom kicked up." Kianna Kekona also saw "brown stuff" in the harbor, and Kuulei Maddela said she watched as the water level "dropped completely." "It rises and it goes back down," she said. "There was a good riptide right at the entrance," Spencer Colon added.
Victoria Colon had packed the family's car with plenty of food and water for the event, along with important family documents, including birth certificates for her grandchildren and family genealogy records - "the whole works, we got it all in the back, just in case," she said. She said she had no regrets about the steps she took to prepare for a disaster that never struck. "Our safety comes first," she said. Narito also said she was glad she sought high ground and stored water as a precaution, even though the wave turned out to be small. "They compared it to the one in the '60s, and that tsunami, the water came up to the old fairgrounds," she said. Toyama said he didn't mind hanging out with friends, watching the waves and the helicopters, while he waited for the "all clear" signal so he could head back to his job near the harbor. "I have nothing else fo' do, eh?" he laughed. Maui calm as waves roll in
WAILUKU - County officials responded to some reports of overflowing sewers, but no other damage was reported following the small tsunami that struck Maui and the rest of the state Saturday. "It's getting back to normalcy," Mayor Charmaine Tavares said midafternoon Saturday, as county water and sewer systems, which had been shut down in low-lying areas, as well as Maui Electric Co.'s Kahului substation, were gradually coming back online. While the wave turned out to be smaller than feared, Tavares said the tsunami helped the county identify ways its emergency systems could be improved. "We learned some good stuff through this exercise," she said. The shutdown in wastewater systems, which resulted in some lines overflowing, was caused not because of the Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility's location near Kanaha Beach Park, but because of the system's many sewage pump stations that are also in the tsunami zone, she said.
While the Kahului treatment plant has been successfully "hardened" against a tsunami up to 20 feet, the pump stations are not protected, she said. The county decided to shut them down because their electrical systems could be "fried" if they were inundated with water. "What I've learned from this is we have to focus on those pump stations," Tavares said. The county advised swimmers to stay out of the water along several areas of shoreline where there were suspected sewage spills: on the north shore from the Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility to the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course, and in the Napili area of West Maui. County spokeswoman Mahina Martin said signs had been posted in affected areas warning swimmers to stay out of the water, and that the signs would be removed after testing determined the water was normal. Wastewater Reclamation Division Chief Dave Taylor said sewage overflowed in several areas, and that four pump stations in Wailuku and Kahului, and one pump station in Napili were involved. He said the county had no way of knowing the volume of sewage that was spilled, because the system was shut down, leaving the meters that measure sewage volume turned off. But a visual inspection of the areas suggested the spills were small. "Usually there's telltale signs on the ground, and there weren't any," he said. While the tsunami ended up not coming close to the sewage pump stations, Tavares said she didn't regret the decision to shut them down. "We could have left the pump stations alone, had a 6-foot wave, and it would have fried our electrical systems and crippled our system for a much longer length of time," she said. Water systems in low areas were also temporarily shut down, out of concern that pipes could be damaged, allowing salty ocean water to contaminate the drinking water system.
During the water shutdown, holding tanks were filled so that water would be available to flush the system and refill the pipes, she said. Another issue the county will look at was the lack of shelters or evacuation centers for the thousands of people leaving low-lying areas. While the county coordinates with the Red Cross to open and staff shelters in the event of a tsunami, the Red Cross does not open those shelters until after the surge strikes, in the event that serious damage prevents residents from being able to return to their homes. "It's really for victims of the aftermath," Tavares said. Tavares said Saturday's emergency revealed residents need a place to go while they wait for the wave. Without a destination, many of the people fleeing coastal areas drove to higher ground, where they ended up parked by the side of the road, without basic accommodations like toilets. Tavares said that in the future the county needed to plan for "staging areas" and provide portable toilets there for sanitation. "We don't want to wait for the aftermath," she said. "We want to designate safe areas people can go, where they can hang out while they're waiting." In Hana, state Sen. J. Kalani English said county workers and police officers did an "exceptional job" going house to house and making sure residents left the area, especially the elderly. He also said state civil defense systems worked, with sirens alerting residents to the emergency, and officials using radio and television stations to keep the public up-to-date. "The one thing I think we could have done - because there were so many people on Twitter and Facebook - if I had to suggest something, I would suggest our civil defense incorporate social media" to get information out, he said. English said he doesn't have a TV in Hana, so he used his iPhone to follow tsunami updates on Twitter. Overall, Tavares said she was pleased by the community's response to the emergency, and said Maui did an especially good
job in coordinating between federal, state and county agencies, along with visitor industry leaders and the private sector. "Even though we've escaped again, there will come a day when we will get hit, and through these kinds of things we get prepared," she said.