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Any normal Saturday there would be a line in front of Boots and Kimos in Kailua, even after the popular breakfast spot’s recent move into much larger quarters. But on Tsunami Saturday, it was closed; residents and visitors alike had sought safety. Across the street, Safeway’s parking lot had been filled at 3 am with check-out lines reaching to the back of the store. People stocked up on batteries, bottled water, toilet paper and diapers, rice and spam. At 11 am it, too, was deserted although the store remained open.
Tsunami preparations turned the clock upside down, disrupting personal schedules and public events. In many ways it was like every disaster movie you’ve ever seen with two huge differences: the tsunami spared Hawaii any serious damage and people did not panic. Everywhere, I saw evidence of the equanimity and graciousness that is called “aloha.” In congested traffic there were no angry horns blaring. People in check-out lines chatted with one another, allowing over-filled carts to squeeze past with a smile. The atmosphere where people gathered along mountain look-outs was described as a block party.
Like many others, I went for a couple of missing essentials (coffee and bread) at 4 am. I had learned of the warning from a UH alert when I awoke a few minutes earlier and was surprised to see the store already packed. That’s pretty fast work even for the coconut wireless (word of mouth). The woman next to me said the news that Hawaii was under a watch had been reported at 10 pm. They continued listening and when the watch was upgraded to a warning they loaded up the family, stopping at the grocery store stop en route to higher ground. With this new information, I asked the beleaguered check-out clerk “Has it been like this all night?” She smiled and nodded without missing a beat in scanning items at the register. I still got the customary personal greeting and smile as she handed me the receipt and moved on to the next in an endless line.
Unlike most others, I ventured out just before the tsunami was scheduled to hit the big island. I wanted to see if the roads were blocked and what else was going on (without getting into the evacuation zone.) A few people were still out and about but most stores had closed to allow employees to stay off the roads and care for their families. I stopped at a wonderful new store, Hibachi, to pick up some champagne and poke to celebrate our first tsunami in Hawaii. The store owner came by to suggest a good champagne choice and see if I needed anything else. As I pondered the poke possibilities, another customer approached the counter and gave his order. Then he saw me and said in genuine concern, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there. I didn’t mean to get in front of you — go ahead.” I told him I wasn’t ready yet, he was fine, but thanks.
In the final few minutes before what could have been a natural disaster, everyone was calm and concerned about one another. A national news headline said there was “panic” but I saw none. I saw the same aloha that I enjoy every day here in Hawaii.