KAHULUI - Kahului Harbor on Maui's north shore absorbed the largest waves of the tsunami that came ashore in Hawaii on Saturday night after a massive earthquake hit off of the western Canadian coast.
The harbor recorded a 5 foot wave - meaning 2 1/2 feet above ambient sea level, according to Gerard Fryer, senior geophysicist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu.
"That's the biggest so far," Fryer told local news media at around 11:15 p.m., as the fourth wave had come ashore. He added that a tsunami's largest wave is typically seen within the first half-dozen waves.
Christie Cummings (right) records the scene at Tesoro gas station on Piilani Highway around 10 p.m. Saturday. The Cummings family was evacuated from their nearby home on the makai side of Piilani Highway, including husband Glenn (white shirt) and daughter Mokihana, 8, who was sequestered in the car with a 103-degree temperature. “She’s scared as hell,” Christie Cummings said. The gas station did not experience the same wild rush as it did after the earthquake-generated tsunami from Japan was forecast.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"It's beginning to look like the evacuation may not have been necessary," he said. "It seems the forecast was an overprediction, but let's wait and see."
As of 11:30 p.m., Maui officials had no reports of damage, said Maui County spokesman Rod Antone. The tsunami warning remained in effect as of midnight. (The county downgraded the warning to an advisory at about 1 a.m. today)
The first wave hit Hawaii's shorelines as forecasted around 10:30 p.m., just hours after residents in low-lying coastal areas statewide were urged to evacuate.
The tsunami center had issued a warning for Hawaii shortly before 7:30 p.m., signaling that all coastal areas were likely to be hit by a wave and initiating evacuation efforts.
About an hour later, Maui Civil Defense had issued a tsunami warning and "immediate evacuation advisory."
The county shut down water and sewer lines before 10 p.m. in preparation for the possible arrival of the tsunami. Residents were advised to conserve water and not to flush toilets.
Service was restored at about 12:20 a.m. today
Before the waves hit, Dailin Wang, an oceanographer at the tsunami center, had estimated that Kahului Harbor would see wave heights of about 4 feet to 5 feet.
He said the shape of the harbor makes it more vulnerable to a tsunami.
"Kahului Harbor is unique, so other coasts may see smaller waves," he said.
Oahu's North Shore saw wave heights of just under 1.5 feet at gauges at Haleiwa and Makapuu, while Hilo recorded a high of less than 1 foot, according to the tsunami center.
Two evacuation emergency shelters were set up in the gyms of Lahainaluna and Maui high schools.
Seven Russian information technology professionals lost their luggage from a stopover in Los Angeles on their way to a conference in West Maui and wound up spending their Saturday night waiting in Maui High School's gym instead of at their plush rooms in the Sheraton Maui.
"We're having our own international conference here," Maui High Principal Bruce Anderson said, pointing to European travelers, along with locals and immigrants who live by the shoreline, as well as folks from Canada and Seattle who gathered together. "How great is it to be able to meet all these people from all over and be able to help them out?"
Liuda Dstroumova called the experience an adventure.
"We're from Moscow, so this sort of thing (potential crisis) is normal for us," she joked calmly.
All told, about 25 people of all ages watched an old television for updates, cooked ramen noodles or simply waited quietly or slept in the school's gym. They didn't have any cots or bedding, only some mats.
Since Maui police blocked off the roads headed toward the ocean from Kaahumanu Avenue, high ground roadways and parks and lots along Wakea, Papa and Kamehameha avenues also were lined with dozens of waiting cars and trucks filled with people listening to their radios and checking their smartphones for the all-clear sign.
A number of homes outside the tsunami zone also appeared to be hosting evacuee family members, and some even made the best of it with yard get-togethers.
Donnie Cortez of Kahului said he tried to get to Maui Memorial Medical Center but couldn't find a route there. He said he was told to go to Maui High because "this is the place to be." Cortez said he thought he'll be fine there.
"I just want everybody to be safe," said Matilda Chaney, a Harbor Lights resident who sat in a truck bed in a parking lot nearby with three generations of her family. "I'm not really worried because I've been through this before, but I know I should be worried. We're so close to the water. We'll just wait here."
Gas stations around Central Maui got busy fast as cars lined up, often spilling into adjacent roadways.
Traffic was at a standstill at the Wailuku Bridge, and Kahului Beach Road was clogged with cars just before 9 p.m.
Marvin Moniz, Maui District airport manager, had reported that the Kahului Airport was still open as of 9 p.m. There were about three incoming and three outgoing flights for the rest of the night, he said.
He said that by the time the first tsunami wave was scheduled to hit, all of the outgoing flights were expected to be gone.
Moniz said it was up to the carriers if they wanted to bring their flights in late Saturday night, but added that most roads accessing the airport were going to be shut down by police.
Elsewhere in town, the Maui Interscholastic League football game between Baldwin and King Kekaulike high schools ended at half time due to the tsunami warning. The score was 21-0 in favor of Baldwin. The coaches were informed midway through the second quarter.
Over in West Maui, most restaurants and shops were empty by 10 p.m.
Jack Starr, assistant manager of Kimo's Restaurant on Front Street, said they got word about a possible tsunami from a call their bartender received shortly before 8 p.m. Within an hour or so, Starr said they'd calmly informed patrons about what was going on and what to do next, such as going to their condos and hotels, asking their concierges for advice and gluing themselves to TVs.
Kimo's is owned by T.S. Restaurants, which has three other West Maui eateries near the water, all of which company regional managers decided to evacuate immediately, Starr said. All the adjacent stores on Front Street closed, too, he said.
And no west side restaurant, boutique or business called by The Maui News by 10 p.m. answered its phones.
"It was all about the safety of our guests and staff," Starr said. "Luckily, a lot of us know the drill, and we had time to slowly and methodically get everyone out and close up. We're getting better and better in these situations. Yes, there are immanent dangers out there, but we haven't seen it, thankfully. But we can't play games. It seemed like a normal night. Then the sirens started to go off.
"We told people, 'Don't panic. There are experts to help you,' and it worked out just fine."
The Maui Visitors Bureau and Maui Hotel & Lodging Association helped with evacuating guests in any beachside buildings that were less than three stories tall.
"Anyone in a hotel is going up, if they have three stories. If they don't have at least three stories, the hotels are leading people to higher ground," said Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau. "I'm at (Maui County) civil defense now coordinating and updating the properties. Everybody's working right now."
Lisa Paulson, executive director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association, who was working with Vencl, said she was forwarding information she got from Vencl that told guests to stay at their hotels and condominiums because roads were closed and congested.
A group of hikers hoping to take advantage of Saturday night's full moon were able to safely evacuate thanks to technology.
"We had a group (of 21) we were leading out on a guided full moon hike, which we do once a month, when we heard about it through the grapevine," said Sara Smith, outreach director for the Waihee Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge. "We had some campers out at the refuge, and one of them had already gotten word at about 7:45 p.m. with a text from a family member. We went to round them up with a truck, and they already had their tents and gear broken down and were heading out."
Smith said they are fortunate today to have cellphones and other technology to get ahead of potential natural disaster like this and maybe save lives. As Smith spoke shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday, she also was stuck in traffic as she headed to her home in Upcountry.
The tsunami warning remained in effect as of midnight. Maui County officials stressed that an all clear message for the island would come from Maui County and not from the tsunami warning center or other counties.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.