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My Hawaii Big Island Tsunami Experience

Tsunami Water recedes

I know there are probably quite a few blogs being posted about the devastation of the Tsunami that hit Hawaii Friday, March 11, 2011 at approximately 3:32am, but I’d like to take a different approach and share with you not only some facts, but also how it affected me as a resident of Kailua Kona.

Prior to the tsunami, earlier on Thursday it was a typical busy day for me.  I was on desk duty where I work as a Realtor at Century 21 All Islands.  I stayed at the office until around 6:00pm at which time I went to dinner with my husband.  We choose an ocean front restaurant in Kailua town.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner watching another beautiful Kona sunset until around 9:30 pm (evacuation began at 10:00pm). When we arrived home a little before 10:00 pm, we turned on the radio to watch the news and that is when it all hit the fan.  We were oblivious to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan until then. It was just another typical night in Kailua town, many people strolling the streets, eating and shopping at the ocean front restaurants and stores.

The local (in Honolulu, the Big Island doesn’t have their own network TV station) news stations were extremely informative especially because this was just the beginning of what was going to be a very long night for many people.  I immediately went into protection mode.  I was worried about my family, friends and clients who might be asleep and had not been informed.  I wasn’t sure the emergency sirens had gone off, because we live a good 15 miles from town and wouldn’t necessarily hear them from there.  I have very dear friends who live in Waikiki Beach whom I called immediately and then contacted 2 clients who live on Alii Drive to make sure they were aware of what was going on.  They might have thought I was crazy calling or texting them at 10:30pm, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to make sure they were safe.  Then there were the animals at the Hawaii Island Humane Society, where I do volunteer work. I was worried are they safe and are they being evacuated.  I did find out early the next morning that the dedicated staff and management had taken out time from making sure their families and property were safe to load all the animals in their vehicles and move them to higher ground.

I tried staying up until 3:30 am (the time predicted for the tsunami to arrive here), but I couldn’t make it.  I woke up Friday morning at 7:00 am and immediately turned on the local and national news.  At that time, they were only able to provide limited information about the damage.  As the morning progressed, more information became available.  I went into Kailua Town on Friday afternoon, but didn’t want to go to Alii Drive where a good portion of the damage had taken place. The streets were blocked off and the cleaning crews were trying to get Alii Drive re-opened as soon as possible. What I could see from Kuakini Hwy, just above Alii Drive, is the street looked like a beach and there was quite a bit of debris scattered all around.

Now for some facts taken from the various news sources:

The 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan on Friday at 2:46pm (local time) lasted for almost 2 minutes and was the biggest to hit Japan since record keeping began in the 1800s and was one of the 10th largest earthquakes ever recorded. Just minutes after the earthquake, they experienced a 23 foot tsunami wave along the northeastern coast of Japan. Last reported, the death toll was 680 people and could rise above 1,000.

The first wave hit the Big Island at Kawaihae Harbor which is approximately 40 miles North of Kailua Town at 3:32am.  According to the news media, the tsunami warning center does not keep gauges in Kailua Bay or Kealakekua Bay so they are unable to determine times or wave heights for these locations. It was reported that tsunami waves approximately 11 feet high hit the seaport of Kailua Town.

There were well over 1,000 Big Island residents and tourists evacuated by approximately 1:30 am who took up shelter at the evacuation centers across the island or went to friends and families homes on higher ground.

It was reported there were at least seven homes damaged or destroyed in the South Kona District of Kealakekua Bay. Cars were flipped over with one landing in the bay. It was reported the worst waves hit this area at around 5:00 am.

Roof Floating in Kealakekua Bay

In Kailua Town, damage was done to the newly renovated King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel and will be closing for an estimated 3 months for repairs.

King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel

Alii Drive looked like the beach, sand was everywhere, chunks of sidewalk sat in the roadways, debris was scattered throughout including tables, chairs and couches, parts of the seawall had been ripped loose and tossed dozens of feet away, water damage to many stores and restaurants and the Hulihee Palace was flooded which just reopened in September 2009 after it sustained earthquake damage.

Kailua Town Tsunami Damage

Thanks to many boat owners and fishermen the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor just outside Kailua Town was relatively undamaged.  Many boaters took their boats out to sea and waited for the tsunami to pass in order to escape damage.  So far the only casualty reported is 1 fishing boat sank.

There’s been conflicting reports about the Kailua Pier.  It was reported it was so badly damaged it’s been condemned and in another report it stated it “faired OK”.  If it has been condemned this could be detrimental to our tourism industry, because this is where the cruise ships unload their passengers.

Kailua Pier Damage

This is second time in a little over a year where we have had a tsunami warning, the other being in February 2010 and I have to say our County agencies are very well prepared and have done an amazing job keeping our residents and tourist’s safe during an emergency situation.

The good news is no major injuries or deaths have been reported. Although this is a traumatic experience for the residents and tourist of the Big Island, we should all be thankful we didn’t receive a devastating blow that Japan sustained. What we suffered here is minor compared to what they are having to deal with.

It was nice to hear our new Governor, Mr. Abercrombie, is working with the estimated 15,000 Japanese tourists who are in Honolulu for the Japan Hawaii Culture Expo 2011 to get in touch with loved ones in Japan and assist them in getting back home.

It has taken me about 36 hours to post this blog and since then I’d like to give a current update.  Kona is back up and running again.  I drove down Alii Drive at 6:00 pm this evening and other than some  caution tape you would never know we had a tsunami.  I did notice some discrepancies in what was earlier reported by the media as stated above.  Yes, the sea wall does have substantial damage, the Kona Inn shopping center and restaurant are closed; but the Kailua Pier had a large sight-seeing boat docked (is it condemned or not?), and the King Kamehameha Hotel had patrons on their lanais (are they closed for renovations?).

In conclusion, I want to thank all of my friends, family and clients who have called and emailed to check on me and my family, we truly appreciate it.

If you’d like additional information click here for my contact information.

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