Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tsunami at 10

Chapter 3.
Growing up, Hawaiian style
One other part.

In 1957 there was a strong earthquake, 8.2, in the Aleutian Islands. A tidal wave alert would be issued by the National Defense. In 1957 they did not officially or unofficially, now that I think about it, call tidal waves, tsunamis. If you go to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu you will find a painting of an Hawaiian riding a tidal wave. Not a tsunami. Nope! There is no Japanese guy named Glen Murukami crouched down in one Kamakazii stance yelling ‘Banzaii’, riding a tsunami. Go see! Check it out. By the way, get plenty other cool stuff too.

My father was now Director of the Harbor Divisions with the Corps of Army Engineers, and also part of the National Defense Team. At around 2 to3AM he got a phone call which woke up the whole family. I don’t remember exactly what time it was. I was 10. It was in the middle of the night. And actually, the phone call did not wake me up. My Mom did. She did not wake me up unless it was important.


Excitement and then anxiety was suddenly a member of our household. The 1946 tidal wave in Hawaii generated in the same geographical area as this one, which had caused substantial damage in Hawaii and was of legendary proportions, was 7.4. This was 8.2! Whoa!
Our TV was on but it only showed the station channel number as it was ‘off’ hours. The radio was on to the official National Defense station but no announcement had been made. Coffee was percolating and slowly filling the air with its aroma and Mom and BJ were cooking some breakfast. My father was in the bedroom with the side table light on, sitting there with his back to the door talking on the phone and writing something on a pad of paper. Pat was (?). Where was Pat? I was walking around the house going from my bedroom to the kitchen, down the hall to look at Dad sitting on the bed with his back to me talking to someone and then back to the kitchen and then out on our lanai. It was dark. I was sleepy. I wanted to go back to sleep. Excitement and anxiety had not only moved in but had replaced sleep.
The TV suddenly came on very loud with the national anthem playing. I ran over to turn the volume down. BJ and my Mom stopped what ever they were doing in the kitchen and came to stand by me in the living room. Then the news room was on. It was a special alert announcement. ‘There is a tidal wave alert for the entire Hawaiian island chain. Expected time of arrival is shortly after 9AM. This is not a test. The National Defense System has issued a tidal wave alert for the entire Hawaii Islands. …’ The radio station was giving the same information. The same announcement. As we were standing there three abreast watching the TV newsroom person, we heard the first sirens going off outside. The sirens would continue at 15 minute intervals through this morning. Up to this point Excitement and anxiety had been relatively quiet. A growing nuisance visitor in the middle of the night, but at least quiet. Now Excitement and anxiety was looming like a replay of the Hindenburg blimp docking, and you knew what was going to happen next.
The family plan: Jeannie and I would be going with Dad. He was going to Lanakai Point to set up a recording station. We would be leaving the house at around 7AM. Until then we would pack our essential belongings. Mom would drive to… I don’t recall.

So, we packed all our photo albums, valuables, and two sets of cloths per person. We eat. We loaded Mom’s car and then we left in Dad’s.

At Lanakai Point, just a few blocks away, we drove up an access road behind the point and parked. We carried movie cameras, photo cameras and equipment to the point. We set the equipment up. We walked down to the beach and my Dad drove an orange and white pole into the sand at the waters edge next to the boat ramp with a sledge hammer. He and Jeannie measured off a 100’ back inland away from this first pole at waters edge and drove another pole into the sand. This second pole was just off the parking lot.

With these two poles set, Dad waded out into the water caring another pole, sledge hammer and the tape measure. He lined himself up with these two poles and drove the third pole into the sandy bottom, in line with the first two, at the same distance, 100’ from the first pole. He waded back in to shore and now we would wait. Or I would wait. Jeannie and my Dad were making lots of notes and recording time with photographs.

The morning was a beautiful clear day as usual. The sun was now rising into the blue sky. White fluffy clouds floating by in the trade wind ocean breeze. Yes, just like the post cards of Hawaii. It was a surreal day thinking back. I could have woken up this morning and had it not been a school day, walked down to David’s hale and who know what we would be doing by now. But now, it was entirely different. Now it would be entirely different and never the same. Nor I, really. I was 10 years old and going to get an education that one can never get in any school class room. I had front row, best seat in the house view. And check this out, my commentator was a world class Oceanographer Engineer, but I called him Dad.

As the 9AM hour approached, it did not take anyone with any brains to know that something ominous was taking place. As the expected time of arrival drew closer and closer, the water in the bay began receding out. I remember very clearly that the waters edge was at the boat ramp, just like normal when we arrived. Then it had begun slowly receding out. Where the boats would float off of their trailers at the bottom of the boat ramp, it was now silty sand. And it receded out and out. Just prior to the tidal waves arrival the bay from shore line to flat island had been drained. Little streams were draining out over the reef into the depths. The reef around flat island on both sides was becoming exposed. Twin islands off of Lanakai beach were connected to the shore line by land. Pools of water within the bay, where trapped fish were caught lay flipping around on their sides. They did not have to wait long.

On the horizon very suddenly came a series of waves each a little higher than the wave in front. From our elevated rise on the point we could see a whole set of waves approaching. They were coming fast. They were coming fast enough that even with the on shore trade winds, the waves as they mounted the coastal shelf, feathered and sprayed off the top. They were coming in much faster than the trade winds were blowing.

The first filled the bay to almost normal shore line. But before it could reach the shore line the second flooded past and over the first wave then up the shore line and up shore line a little. The third swamped the shore line and went over into the parking lot and the forth and fifth flooded the parking lot and flowed into the Kaelepulu stream and streets off of Kalaheo. The beach front homes though not knocked off their foundations were flooded. The Beamer home on stilts was in trouble. The concrete wall that separated Foodland and their property set perpendicular to the on coming surge made for an abrupt barrier of which the water just rose up and back washed. I saw their whole house just shift. My heart dropped.

In Kailua it was the only house that was damaged. The waves just flooded and flowed around the beach front homes. The concrete wall barrier had stopped the flow.

For me, seeing this Tidal wave or as they are now called Tsunami, ‘Yes Glen, you may still have your day!’, was an experience of a life time. Standing there on Lanakai point, just above Kailua Beach Park, a place that I had grown up and literally spent so much of my leisure time, my boy hood play time with my best friend and then in this one mid morning day watching and seeing this water receding out of the bay. To say it was eerie or spokey was not nearly as much as to say it was also shocking. I know it happened. I watched it happen. It all took place in a time frame that was progressive and measured. I was a spectator to an awesome event that altered a lot of peoples lives with all the detailed information shared with me by my Father’s first hand knowledge.

Some months later my Dad read from a report on the Earthquake that had generated this tidal wave. Had the fault shift been opposite to this one, the tidal wave would have been substantially larger and more powerful than it was. Consequently because it was in the opposite direction, the Aleutian chain of islands received a massive wave. Not Hawaii as had occurred in the 1946 earthquake.

Well that is something to know about nature. ‘check!’

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