KIHEI - The effects from Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan left South Maui in awe.
"It's blowing my mind," said 39-year-old Kaleo Miguel, an avid surfer and stand-up boarder from Wailuku.
Miguel began his day at 7:15 a.m. at Cove Park in Kihei where he found ocean water had surged past the shore and into the park's parking lot and a nearby portable toilet.
Debris from the tsunami is visible as Barbara Wood takes a call outside her Kihei house.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Waves surge inland underneath the footbridge at Kalama Park in Kihei on Friday.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
"I always get to watch it on the news. I never to get to see it live and here I'm seeing it live," Miguel said. For at least four hours, Miguel watched from shore as waters receded out as far as 100 yards and then surged back to Cove Park, a favorite location for surfing and swimming.
While tsunami surges came in and out of the cove, Miguel watched a moped rider taking a daring ride over Cove Park's exposed reef and sandy bottom before waters surged back in. He also saw what he believed to be a father and daughter walking where waters once filled and then throwing exposed fish back toward the ocean.
Miguel said he didn't fear for his life, despite being within a few feet of the shore. He said he trusted that while he had once seen the water crash over a stack of rocks at least 6 feet high, he did not expect the water would ever topple him.
"Are you kidding me? I'd love to surf on those waves. It's spectacular," he said.
Barbara Wood, who leases a beachfront home on Halama Street, also found herself in wonderment of nature and how vulnerable people are when nature's forces take over.
"I'm still in shock by the look of things," she said.
The 150-square-foot deck of her home was ripped out, plants were uprooted and debris from neighborhoods around Halama Street filled her property.
"Fortunately there was no permanent damage. . . . It was just amazing," she said.
Halama Street neighbors offered one another help as they spent the morning cleaning up debris that floated into their yards and on the street. Wood had to throw away dirty, soaked house rugs that covered the cement floor slab in the house.
While cleaning their properties, Wood and her neighbors could hear the ocean nearby, receding and then surging back in multiple intervals. "It was really dramatic at times. . . . You could tell something big happened," she said.
Wood said the good that came out of the situation was that neighbors found themselves talking to and supporting one another.
"We just all worked together, and really the consensus was this is nothing compared to what happened in Japan," Wood said.
Both residents and visitors across South Maui were seen walking both onshore and on the ever-busy South Kihei Road, which had portions closed off while workers cleared debris. A trail of debris showed that water had surged in as far as the old Suda Store on the north side of South Kihei Road and by Kealia Pond on North Kihei Road.
"I've never seen it like that," said Kihei resident Bob Richardson of the tsunami surges.
"This is incredible," wife Lis Richardson added.
The two saw water surge under the old Kalama Park bridge where water doesn't regularly flow.
Scott Taylor and his wife, Michelle Kemper, left their home on Kilohana Road, and brought their two sons, ages 11 and 7, to see the water going in and out of Cove Park. Taylor said he wasn't worried about the risk of water surging in suddenly.
"I figure I can swim well and run fast," he said.
He said he and his sons often surf in Cove Park. Friday's walk through the area included seeing crabs and sea horses in reef nearly drained of ocean water.
Kemper said that members of her family had watched the tsunami devastation in Japan on TV and realized how fortunate Maui was to have been spared such a disaster.
"It's been very unnerving watching it unfold. I think it could have easily happened here, but thankfully we were spared," she said.
Sheree Haggard, a former Kihei resident who was visiting at the Mana Kai Resort on South Kihei Road, waited until the last minute to evacuate and then spent the night with friends at a home in Maui Meadows.
"We just got together and had a pajama party," Haggard said.
"I knew I would be OK," she said. "It was nothing to me. I've been through Hurricane Iniki." She said she took an overnight bag to her friend's home but left most of her belongings at the resort on South Kihei Road.
Returning to the Mana Kai on Friday morning was a little difficult because of the debris on South Kihei Road and streets nearby. "It was all muddy, but I got through it," she said.
Tom Furukawa, a first-floor condominium resident at the Villas at Kenolio, said that he decided to seek higher ground about an hour before the waters were expected to hit Maui. He found refuge at the Kihei Safeway store.
"We were real lucky, very lucky," Furukawa said. Upon returning home, he learned that ocean water had surged in from shore and come up to the edge of his condominium complex. "It could have been worse."
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at email@example.com.