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Tsunami watch: High waves spare Hawaii

Watching It started with a phone call from a neighbor at 4:30 a.m., jarring Maureen Goto awake at her seaside bed-and-breakfast in Hilo.

"A tsunami's coming," the neighbor said. A little more than an hour later, civil defense sirens sounded in coastal areas across the state, triggering the evacuation of as many as 100,000 people and a tense day of waiting for a possible disaster.

"They said, 'You have to go inland, and up,' " said Goto, whose 1930s-era mansion in Hilo, on the island of Hawaii, had already withstood tsunamis that twice devastated the town.

"It was spooky, especially when you're just listening to the radio, and they say the water's receding out of the bay, and the next thing you know it's coming back up over the bridge," she said. "You're just sitting there, not knowing if the big one is coming with the next few waves."

The first Pacific-wide tsunami advisory since 1964, triggered by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile, ended for Hawaii with relatively minor ocean surges that did no significant damage, though thousands of residents were forced to flee their homes for higher ground and hotels evacuated guests to higher floors or called buses to shuttle them to safe areas.

The normally crowded Waikiki Beach in Honolulu was deserted, save for a few spectators who kept dodging police to watch for incoming waves. Low-lying residents in Kauai could be seen hauling flat-screen TVs to higher ground in the backs of their cars. In Honolulu and Maui, people parked cars at vantage points above the beach to watch for the big waves that never really materialized.

"Over here, it was pretty hectic all day," said Shelly Ichishita, spokeswoman for the state Civil Defense department, after Gov. Linda Lingle signed an emergency proclamation.

"The whole time we were hoping and praying that the cancellation would come, that we wouldn't have any large, damaging waves. And when we finally did receive the cancellation, it was just an overwhelming sense of relief," Ichishita said.

She said the state had not evacuated its entire coastal tsunami zone since October 1994.

Throughout the day, school gyms and community centers turned into makeshift way stations for evacuees. Hot dog stands sprang up along high-ground roadsides.

The U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet sent four warships and three other support and research vessels out to sea as a precaution against damage near shore at Pearl Harbor.

The waves that eventually struck Hawaii were about half the size that had been the maximum forecast, said Brian Shiro of the tsunami warning center.

"Just about any kind of activity around the ocean was just called to a halt. We were all just glued to the TV from 5:30 in the morning all the way on," said Julie Wallace, who lives about a mile from the beach in Kauai.

Authorities said there were isolated reports of looting in low-lying areas that had been evacuated.

The bowl-shaped underside of the bay at Hilo in the past has been a dangerous generator of tsunami damage.

In 1960, a tsunami triggered by another big earthquake in Chile hit Hilo with waves as high as 35 feet, destroying much of the downtown area and killing 61 people. A 1946 tsunami killed about 159 people across Hawaii, many of them in Hilo.

Goto said her home survived both those events, but she worried throughout the day that debris from a strong tsunami surge would cause heavy damage.

Lee Harlow, co-owner of the Naniloa Volcanoes Resort on Hilo Bay, said the five-hour warning gave people enough time "not to panic."

Some of Harlow's guests elected to take a tour of the Big Island's volcanoes, well inland. Others were taken by bus to another hotel she and her husband own outside the evacuation zone.

"The one in 1960 had a very defined wave -- you see from the pictures a huge wave, and people running away from it," she said. "This one was nothing like that, but you could see the ocean going out, pulling away from the bay, and then coming back in," she said.

--Kim Murphy from Seattle

Photo: People parked cars at vantage points above the beach in Honolulu and Maui to watch for the big waves that never really materialized. Credit: Kent Nishimura / Getty Images.
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Tsunami was really a very huge and dangerous shock for all over the world.That is for sure on that timing everyone scared and fully hopeless.I just wish that it never happens again.So that nobody get that much harm what he/she get in past Tsumani.

that iz so crazy mann mi lucky i wasnt there

I wish that my vacationing parents currenly vacationing in Lahaina had been given a chance to experience the precautions as they were not warned by sirens, and instead were awakened by a call on Saturday morning from my sister in California who was the first to tell them about the earthquake and the approaching tsunami.

As my father turned on the television to catch up on the news, back in Oregon, my wife had in the meantime located the Maui County website on our computer where she found the "Tsunami Evacuation Maui Map" for the area; downloaded a Maui driving map, an overhead satellite map of the highrise, and a listing of tsunami-resistant evacuation sites for Maui to transmit over the phone to my parents.

A map of the evacuation areas is in the phone ook, but this information should also be available in a separate booklet for tourists to access at check-in or at a Tourist information center. As it was, the person at the highrise's front desk could not tell my parents where the nearest tsunami shelter was located. My parents were given plastic jugs to fill with water and told to pack their luggage and a handful of food items in preparatiion of a move up to a higher floor. They were warned that if and when the tsunami hitto expect to be without electricity or water for several days after the tsunami's arrival. Full evacuation was not a possibility, as the roads were jammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic. I now know that Maui residents can sign up for emailed tsunami alerts, but who informs the non-wired tourists? Don't they deserve the advance warning that everyone else receives in a time of crisis? Please note that my parents are in their eighties, and are not computer-literate

Overall, everyone just took precaution. And, it was interesting to watch the water eb and flow so quickly - At one point it atcually looked like a rapid near the bridge. Thankfully, as the article states, "the big wave never materialized."

I took the time to hike Makiki Valley. Not a bad day.


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