WAILUKU - As they cleaned up around homes and businesses in the hours after a tsunami sent torrents of water and debris through streets and yards Friday, residents from Waiehu to Kahului to Spreckelsville were thankful the damage wasn't worse.
"I think we got lucky today," fire Battalion Chief Jeff Shaffer said Friday afternoon while a tsunami command post still was set up and damage assessment was continuing. "In a heartbeat, we can have people mobilized and on line."
"We were blessed," said Eddie Hernandez Rivera, owner of the oceanfront Cary & Eddie's Hideaway Restaurant in Kahului, where water rushed from Kahului Harbor up Puunene Avenue to Kamehameha Avenue at the Kahului Post Office.
Coconuts and other debris carried by the tsunami were deposited outside the Kahului Post Office driveway Friday morning.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
While there was some damage to a freezer, "through an act of God, the thing just went around my building," said Hernandez Rivera, who was preparing to open the restaurant for dinner and late-night entertainment Friday.
Others had similar experiences along Puunene Avenue, where the debris trail extended beyond sidewalks into parking lots and included sand, silt, large pieces of wood and a propane tank.
"Thank God," said William Anana, youth pastor at Word of Truth Church. "The damage just went around the church."
He was among about a half-dozen people who cleaned debris from the lawn fronting the church and up the sidewalk toward Kamehameha Avenue.
Puunene Avenue from the ocean to Kamehameha Avenue was among roadways closed Friday morning, with police officers posted at intersections, as Maui County crews worked to clear roadways. Most roads were reopened by noon.
At Aloha Shell Service, which reopened Friday morning, water came up to curbs but didn't touch gasoline dispensers.
"We're so fortunate," said Paul Hanada, operator of the Puunene Avenue service station. After 8 p.m. Thursday, following the announcement of the tsunami watch, the line for gasoline reached around the block to Kahului Union Church and employees blocked off a second entrance to keep drivers from cutting in line.
Employees who weren't scheduled to work showed up to help direct traffic, Hanada said, and customers' cars being repaired were moved to higher ground.
The normally 24-hour station stayed open until 2 a.m., when the last customer bought gasoline and the streets were empty. Hanada stayed until 3:40 a.m., leaving before the high water arrived, only to return a few hours later.
With much of Kaahumanu Avenue closed to traffic, Hanada's Ilima Shell station was closed Friday morning even though water reached only the sidewalk there, Hanada said.
Before the road reopened, three men wheeled suitcases across Kaahumanu Avenue from the Maui Beach Hotel, which was evacuated Thursday night. Cory, a Honolulu resident who declined to give his last name, said he was staying at the hotel while on Maui for work and spent the night with a friend Upcountry. With the road closed, he parked nearby and walked to the hotel. Luckily, he said, the room key worked so he could retrieve his luggage and make an 11 a.m. flight back to Oahu.
By Friday afternoon, the hotel had reopened.
Along oceanfront Stable Road in Spreckelsville, properties lost 15 to 20 feet of embankment, and owners returned home Friday morning to find yards littered with rocks, shells, driftwood and crabs from the ocean, said resident Eric Pung.
He evacuated the area around 2 a.m., returning shortly after 7:30 a.m. to find the water went right to the screen door of his house but didn't touch the wood floor inside.
"Luckily, no one had any structural damage," he said after talking to neighbors. "We lucked out for sure."
A neighbor's gazebo was toppled, with the wooden roof ending up a few houses away in one direction and wooden posts scattered in both directions along the beach. Part of a private sand-replenishment project was gone, Pung said.
Brian Steffen, whose house is at the ocean's edge on Kainalu Place in Paukukalo, said he heard water hit the oceanfront wall on his property before a "wave splash" at least 20 feet high hit his roof before 4 a.m. "It was whacking the house so hard," he said. "I was cringing."
He said he was among four residents of the street who stayed, deciding not to evacuate because he wouldn't be allowed back in until the road reopened.
Water rushed into his house, leaving dirt and silt and depositing rocks in his front yard. The wooden cover of his hot tub was splintered, and paint was stripped from wooden railings of his deck overlooking the ocean.
"It was kind of scary," Steffen said.
The tsunami was the worst he has experienced in his 14 years on the street, said Steffen, who at times retreated from his house and walked halfway up the small street. But he said he relied on longtime local residents and "had the gut feeling" that he would be safe.
After dawn Friday, he watched the ocean recede to the point of a temporary buoy about 1,500 feet offshore before muddy waves washed in again. "It's done this 10 times," he said. "In the dark, you couldn't see any water as far as you could see out and you couldn't hear any noise. The only thing you could hear was a couple of fish flapping out there."
With all that was happening, Steffen missed a doctor's appointment Friday morning.
"They have got to know why I didn't show up," Steffen said. "I'm right here in the tsunami zone."
The water pushed some oceanside concrete barriers onto Kahului Beach Road, which was among the last thoroughfares to reopen.
Lower Waiehu Beach Road also was closed for a while.
Rebecca Stapp, who lives on the road with her husband, Ted, and two children, said they thought the tsunami had passed when they returned home at about 4:30 a.m.
"All of a sudden, we hear this thunder," she said. Shining a flashlight on the ocean, she said she could see waves moving from side to side and booming as water reached just below her knees.
"It's the most incredible thing I have ever experienced in my entire life," she said. "You realize how big the ocean is."
The family got back into the car and returned to friends on higher ground. She and her husband returned at about 5 a.m. While their house wasn't damaged, tree branches and debris cut a swath through their neighbor's backyard.
"I just cut the grass yesterday," said Gustavo Chaves, who was planning a barbecue for his birthday.
He called his friends, who spent the day helping clean the yard as well as pulling ruined carpet from neighbor Marc Carone's house that was inundated with mud and silt. The waves washed away sand from Carone's backyard, leaving a deep gap between cement and a tree.
He was grateful for the help from his neighbor's friends.
"It's amazing how fast everybody comes together," Stapp said. "They got right to work."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.