As I write these words, Hurricane Sandy–one of the largest storms ever recorded in the North Atlantic–has begun to batter the east coast of the U.S. Atlantic City is flooded and Manhattan is essentially closed for business. The storm’s death toll in the Caribbean is 66, and it’s currently affecting an estimated 50 million people across the U.S.
Kinda puts Saturday night’s little tsunami scare into perspective, right? Of course, none of us knew at the time that the tsunami waves, though real, were actually quite small and wouldn’t hurt anyone or damage anything, beyond the business generated by a few Halloween costume parties at various bars.
No, at 7pm on Saturday night, my girlfriend and I had another couple over for dinner, and seeing our landlady in the kitchen window telling us that there was just a massive earthquake in Canada and the whole state was now under a tsunami warning–not an advisory–was kind of sobering. And don’t even ask what we thought when we saw that scary computer model that seemed to show all of the tsumani’s projected energy directed at Maui like some Finger of Doom.
So we did what most people who live well outside the evacuation zone: we popped open some beers, turned on the television and watched a bunch of sleepy local news anchors stare at loons walking on Kuhio Beach in Waikiki (though stupid, that particular part of Oahu was not expected to experience serious damage). The fascinating part was that even though Guy Hagi and all the rest of the Honolulu news people kept repeating that disaster officials were predicting that the highest waves were expected to hit Maui–specifically Kahului Harbor–no one actually had anybody on the ground reporting from Kahului.
And when they would find a beach cam in, say, Paia and turn it on, we were all treated to a picture screen of blackness. The only saving grace is that the whole thing was over before the network affiliates could develop some cheesy “Tsunami Watch 2012” news graphic (all the best news was on Twitter anyway).
Close to 10pm (the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said that the first waves would hit the beaches at 10:28pm), my buddy and I got bored and decided to walk down Keonekai to South Kihei Road. Not to stand on the beach like an idiot, but just to take measure of the situation. After filling the bathtub with water (Maui County officials said they were shutting off the water as a precaution), we headed out. We hadn’t even reached Keonekai yet when we saw a Maui Police cruiser race up the hill towards Pi‘ilani Highway, its flashers on and something unintelligible blaring from its loudspeaker.
“Did you understand what that cop said?” a neighbor asked as we walked by. We had no clue. When we got to Keonekai, we found two more residents on opposite sides of the road, asking each other if they understood what the cop had said.
Shrugging our shoulders, we headed down the road. It was very quiet out–like it was much later in the evening than 10pm. Along the way we passed a homeless guy, who clearly had been rousted out of this Kam Beach hideout. “Where are we supposed to go?” he asked us. After telling him he’d be fine where he was (the county’s disaster maps showed the inundation zone stopped at South Kihei Road), he plopped down against a telephone poll.
Down at the lower road, it was even eerier. Because the gas stations had closed, the whole place was deserted. A few cars drove past us, heading up the hill. One driver helpfully told us that we’d better leave, and we thanked him for the advice. After standing around awkwardly in the dark for a few minutes, and the doomsday sirens started wailing again, we walked back up the hill. Passing Keonekai Park, I couldn’t help but notice that a few of the sprinklers were on.
And that was pretty much it. We watched more TV, and then around 1am, when it was pretty clear nothing bad was going to happen (in Kihei or anywhere else on the island), our friends walked home. Just before bed, I went into the bathroom to empty the tub, only to find nothing to drain since I’d failed to completely close the drain plug.
Image: Katsushika Hokusai/Wikimedia Commons