The islands of Hawaii have escaped major damage in today’s tsunami, although some areas were hit harder than others. In the hours leading up to the tsunami, locals and visitors alike prepared for the worst with a wary eye on the damage in Japan.

Unlike the sudden wall of water triggered by Japan’s earthquake, the tsunami in Hawaii traveled for hours across the Pacific Ocean. During that time, it was monitored by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. One indicator they use is ocean buoys that record the wave intensity. However, the buoys are not extremely accurate and there are areas of the ocean that are not monitored, so the real strength of the waves is not known until they arrive.

While scientists watched the weather, people took precautions. Anyone living near the coast, in what are called “inundation zones,” was urged to evacuate to higher ground. Some people have friends or relatives to stay with, others drive to a favorite spot and stay in their cars. Schools were opened as temporary evacuation centers. Hawaii hotels in Waikiki moved guests to floors higher than four in a “vertical evacuation.” Streets near the water were closed and buses halted. The beaches were closed and everyone was urged to stay out of the water.

Locals fill containers, sinks and bath tubs with water because utilities are often affected. We never lost power or water where I live, but Bruce Fisher’s hotel on Maui was without water this morning. Areas of the Big Island of Hawaii were also impacted, at least one hotel there had ground-floor flooding. Television showed people buying water, ice and canned food; at least one grocery store reopened to allow those evacuating to get supplies before hitting the road.

Once precautions have been taken, there is nothing more to do but wait for the wave to arrive. The Pacific Tsunami Center provided periodic updates. Most locals watched the water to see if the ocean was pulling back – the water recedes before it slams ashore, so a larger expanse of sand than normal is a sign the tsunami is near. At Diamond Head, the waves pulled back far enough to expose the reef, much farther than any other recent tsunamis.

During the continuous news coverage, the Hawaii governor and head of tourism spoke directly to island visitors. They were encouraged to stay in contact with their hotel and airline to see when travel would resume. Airports were not directly affected by damage but closed as a precaution and the closed streets meant many workers could not get through. Flights to and from Japan were canceled for the day but others resumed when the tsunami advisory was lifted.

Much has now returned to normal in Hawaii. Airplanes are taking off and landing, buses are running, stores are opening. Still closed: city golf courses, Hanauma Bay and the Honolulu Zoo. City offices are closed but post offices are open. Most schools and universities canceled classes today. It is still not safe to be in the water.

While some events canceled, this weekend’s Honolulu Festival is still on. It celebrates the ties between Hawaii and other Pacific island communities, especially Japan. The connection is especially h3 today, as we give thanks for Hawaii’s good fortune and send support to those impacted in Japan.

Photos courtesy of County of Maui via Facebook.


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