Tuesday, October 3, 2023 | Back issues
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Aloha, Tsunami

HONOLULU (CN) - Life is back to normal on the streets of Honolulu, following the second tsunami scare in two years. After the fifth strongest earthquake in recorded history occurred in a fishing town off the coast of Japan Thursday night, the million or so residents of Hawaii were warned to "take all action necessary to save lives."

I was writing up my daily report for Courthouse News last night when, at about 8:30 p.m. HST, my landlord knocked on my door to let me know about the tsunami warning issued for Honolulu, the second in two years. When I turned on the television and saw the massive wave sweeping across the Japanese town, taking everything in its wake, it seemed like something out of "The Day After Tomorrow." But "shootz, brah!" It's still Hawaii. "Big wave comin' in!" Residents and tourists alike are not known to panic here. In fact, quite the contrary.

I live a block and a half from the ocean in the heart of Waikiki, not the ideal place to be if a 2-foot, mile-long wave is working its way toward your front door. But it is the ideal best place to people-watch. continued

Most of the buildings in Waikiki and Honolulu are built with concrete masonry units reinforced with rebar, so all you need to really do is "go up, at least six floors up," stay out of cars, get off the streets and, definitely, don't go to the beach. I felt safe on the second floor of my cinderblock walk-up and decided to stay home and wait it out. But just like last year's scare, it happened at around 2 a.m., an inconvenient hour. Last year, I had just had a couple beers at a bar, when a patron pointed out what everyone else in the bar had been oblivious to: a tsunami warning had been issued, based on the quakes out of Chile.

Now, I've lived through a few terrible fires in the mountains of Colorado, ones recommending evacuation, too, but when my buzzed brain heard "earthquake" last year, I freaked, ran home to my beach pad, and went into survival mode: changing clothes, putting on running shoes, sealing valuables and snacks in Ziploc baggies, and running inland about a mile to sit alone under a tree. Don't ask me why. Wrong thing to do! But no one was around or awake to acknowledge the potential doom then.

Save for the occasional warning siren, you could hear a pin drop, because everyone but me, it seemed, was either asleep or not concerned for anything but a party at that hour. It wasn't until my landlord returned my call, telling me it was safe to come home and that I needed to "go up, not out," that I sobered up into absolute shame. Boy, did I feel stupid.

Last night, I shut out panic mode. Instead, my boyfriend came over, deciding that, "if the big one hits, I want to be with you."

No sooner did he get to my place from Pearl Harbor, when National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the civil defense and the cops began issuing warnings - a lot sooner than they did last year. Two patrol cars, at a time, basically drove up and down, stopping at each block, and, in a Hawaiian accent, we got the unintelligible instructions: "!@#$$%^&*()!@#$... stay...*&^#.... do not...@#$%."

What? At this point, folks are just staring blankly, not knowing what the hell, because where I live, drunks, stoners, tweakers and homeless folks, who all talk to palm trees on a regular basis, draw way more cops cars than that, on a regular basis.

But eventually the word got out, and eventually the locals and Navy guys in town from the docked carrier USS Abraham Lincoln started to pour out of the bars. "Hey, do you guys think this real?" they shouted up to me and my boyfriend from the sidewalk. "Where can we get some drinks?"

When I asked a bartender at the Sandbox (used to be called Tsunami's, ironically) what they had to deal with last night, he was similarly nonchalant.

"We decided to shut down for liability reasons after the first siren," he told me. "I really didn't think anything was going to happen, but we had to. That was at 10. Once we informed everyone, and started to shut the doors, people were trying to get back inside. No fights or anything, though. The hardest part was trying to close out everyone's tab, but we did, which was good."

Last night I sent my boyfriend downstairs to the corner liquor store to get me a pack of American Spirits for contingency. He said the line was 50 people long and out the door, with "Snookies" and drunk folks irritated that they had been kicked out of the bars. Some were worried their cell phones had stopped working, but, for the most part, only Californians were in a tizzy. All the sweet, 4-foot-tall Korean woman owner could do was ring folks up as calmly as she could, because beer was as much on everyone's mind, if not more so, than any evacuation to the hills. The grocery store a block away had already half-shut its front door, because they had been picked clean of water, canned goods and batteries, but the liquor store was just as visited.

As the evening wore on, all beaches, streets and highways were eerily empty, and as the clock ticked 3ish, we were fading from watching the TV and waiting, our eyes getting heavier from staring at the same two grainy camera shots that all the rest of the United States was staring at. And then it happened: The shoreline near Diamond Head, a mere few blocks away from me receded, exposing some reef and sand, for what looked like 10 feet. That was it.

When I woke, it was to a loudspeaker, but it was that of a typical Waikiki touring trolley, carrying the typical Japanese tourists. "Right here, folks, is where, last night, a drunk solicited a prostitute, right before what was supposed to be the tsunami." They just smiled, as they always do, took pictures and video of me in my window in my PJs, as they always do, because - fortunately - it's another beautiful day in paradise. It would've been nice if a small wave had washed away the smell of bum urine in town, but I'll take the trade.

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