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The Tsunami Warning and a Maui TV station

October 28, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama

Vancouver Sun: Analysis of The Haida Gwaii or Queen Charlotte Islands Earthquake

Because of an unprecedented March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, we had left Japan and relocated to Maui slightly more than a year ago.

We weren’t naïve to think that there would never been a natural disaster on Maui, yet over the last year – as human beings do – we had become complacent. We always spoke about buying more flashlights, emergency water and food, even candles and matches, but we never did. Our old “earthquake” backpack kit was in the condo storage room, collecting dust.

At the time of the Hawaii State tsunami warning on Saturday evening, spouse C. and I were at a dinner at a Wailea hotel. Some diners left quickly, including a manager at another Wailea hotel. We could have remained at the hotel; the general manager said that we were welcome to stay at the second-floor lobby, far above any tsunami water surge.

On my glowing smartphone I checked that the earthquake was pretty strong – 7.7 magnitude on the Richter scale; if it reached 8, the quake would be very strong. But the quake distance from Hawai’i was a long, long ways, on the western coast of Canada (interestingly, people think of quakes and tsunami occurring at the seismic-active San Francisco Bay area or along the southern part of Alaska – but the Canadian western Pacific coastline had a 8.1 magnitude quake in 1949, and the 7.7 Saturday tremor was the largest quake in the region in 60 years -- and in the 1700s the area had a giant 9 magnitude earthquake that sent a tsunami all the way to Japan, and there may be a 9 sometime again in the future). The March 2011 Great East Japan earthquake (a 9 magnitude) was at a shallow depth in the Pacific Ocean near the Japanese islands, and so the enormous tsunami was generated quickly and was devastating along the northeastern coast of Honshu, the main Japanese island.

We returned to our home, about a football field away from the Kihei beach, just as a tsunami siren was blaring. I felt like a bombing attack was imminent. In the condo parking lot there was a family carrying pillows and assembling children into a SUV. Many apartments were dark.

We changed clothes, grabbed warm jackets, shoes, passports (an old habit, as if we were in Japan, we may have to fly to another neighboring country), water bottles, and a handful of fun-sized Snickers candy. If we had more time, we would have taken our LED flashlights, hand/battery/solar-driven radio, Swiss Army knife, medicines, and toilet paper (you never know if we were in the dry bush area north of the Kihei highway). No much time, so we were off in our car.

Fortunately, in our drive out, we found an open gas station and we filled up our Prius gas tank – we could now go up to the top of Haleakala and back, plus to Lahaina and back to Kihei -- on one tank. It is comforting to have extra fuel.

So where to go? My spouse C. mentioned a near-by golf course, so we made it, and parked next to a family with children happily running around in the darkness. We spotted an open clubhouse restaurant, so we headed there. In the dining area there was a collection of condo-dwellers and tourists, some finishing dinner, all watching the TV monitors featuring an Oahu TV station, with a Web-cam overlooking a deserted Waikiki. We sat tiredly on tall seats by the sushi counter; the restaurant staff was kind to allow us to hang out (my wife bought a soft drink, though).

While watching the Oahu-centric tsunami updates, I thought that Maui updates took second-place to Waikiki or even Kailua. What if there was a Maui-based TV station with Web-cams of Kahului harbor or Baldwin Park? Shouldn’t a tri-isle County community of nearly 160,000 deserve its own TV station, with interviews with Maui leaders, police, and safety officials? All-Maui warnings and "all clear" updates could be done through the Maui TV station.

After the first, second, and third tsunami wave TV news reports, I waited until Governor Abercrombie happily announced that it was OK to return home, and then we got into our car and went home.

On Sunday morning on the way to the bathroom I tripped on the bag filled with water bottles and Snickers and wondered what had happened the night before, not reality, but a bad dream.


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