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.


  1. Sending lots of aloha to Japan. Thankful we are ok. As our local DJ Ron Wiley said "We're all alive, breathe it in Kauai."

  2. Aloha Cindy! 
    We in Hawaii are all so very fortunate to have the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, the early warnings they provided definitely helped us come through this relatively unscathed.  Prayers and Aloha go out to those in Japan.

  3. I am so glad we were hit as lightly as we were.  It was a bit scary last night.  Didn't get much sleep.  good writeup.

  4. My prayers to everyone on the tsunami high alert areas. I'm from the Philippines and I sympathize to everyone on Japan and Hawaii. I hope you guys are safe. God bless us all 🙂

  5. I believe the Four Seasons on the Kona-Kohala Coast is relocating guests to other properties. Another Kona hotel and one Kohala Coast hotel had damage as well.
    It has been an emotional, sobering day for many of us here on the Big Island. Everyone I talked to today was up late last night, but everyone had a story to tell. Most of my friends in North Hawaii live "upcountry" in Waimea…many of them welcomed family, friends and even mainland guests here for conferences at the hotels into their homes last night. Unexpected sleepovers, they called it.
    On days like this, I feel truly lucky to "live Hawaii" — even with all the ups and downs that come from nature's unexpected surprises, I can't imagine a more authentic "community" that what we've seen in action today.

  6. Thanks for the comments. I think the tsunami did bring people together here, although everyone is concerned about Japan. I was swamped with concerned calls and emails and texts from the mainland at the moment the tsunami was due — most people don't realize that tsunami damage often unfolds over time and is more apparent after daylight. We were so lucky this time!

  7. Me thinks you need to send someone to Kealakekua Bay and Napoopoo to cover some of their misery.  My friend from Captain Cook, HI sent me a link to some pics.  Perhaps the islands as a whole did pretty good, but his area took quite a hit:

  8. I thank god that my family and friends in the Hawaiian Isles are well, what with this frightening ordeal the past few days.  Living in State of Virginia, I was on pins & needles waiting , as the time creeped by,,,,,as we were 5 hrs ahead on Friday 3/11/11. (we are now 6 hrs ahead, as of 3/13/11).  Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Japan.

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