Tsunami 2010

By Don Mitchell


The great Chilean earthquake of 27 February triggered tsunami warnings across the Pacific. I wrote about my experiences in the 1960 tsunami here on TNB, never imagining that I’d be writing a companion piece only a few months later. While working on my posting, it occurred to me that because many people have Google Earth on their computers, I should specify enough place and street names so that readers can get a look at where I’ve been today. Here’s how my tsunami day went.

6 AM. Sirens. I’m lying awake, ready to get up, drink some coffee, go downtown and run 10k along the bay front, where it’s flat.The sirens start, and my first thought is – tsunami! Then I wonder about it. Maybe somebody mis-programmed the monthly test? But no, they keep wailing. So I get up, and because I haven’t bothered dragging the old boom box down from the closet shelf, and there’s no regular radio in the house, I go to my computer.  Indeed, yes. Those are tsunami sirens, so I go in and wake Ruth. She wears earplugs. She’s startled.

6:15. I say, You make the coffee, and I’ll go fill up the Quest. I made a couple of runs to The Dump yesterday, and the fuel low light went on. I didn’t bother getting gas because I didn’t have my wallet.

6:20. Oh. I’m not the only one who needs gas. At the Union 76, the line stretches half a mile. Oh. I’ll wait it out.

6:25. On Hawai’i Public Radio, the Saturday morning host, who usually plays modern music, is doing the tsunami warning. In the background he’s playing John Adams’ “Shaker Loops.” Excellent choice – agitated and rousing, but not ominous.

6:30. Inching along. For the first time, I hear the Emergency Broadcast System alert squawks followed by an actual message. Not “This is a test . . . .”  Nope. A Hawai’i County Civil Defense person comes on with the detailed warning.

6:35. I’m in front of the Kaumana Fire House. I don’t want to stop in front of the engines, so I leave a gap. Oh! Somebody drives along and cuts in in front of me. This is Manhattan Bridge behavior. Somebody’s really worried. Never mind. If he doesn’t want to act in the Hawaiian way, I will. I don’t give him the stink eye.

7:00. Sirens again.

7:15. Switching between stations, I note that not every announcer knows what a “fathom” is. The official recommendation is that vessels go offshore to where the depth is “100 fathoms,” so some are saying “600 feet,” which is correct, and others “600 fathoms,” doing the X6 thing but forgetting to change the unit. Some feet and meter differences, too. One source says 7 feet expected, another says 4 meters. That’s a significant difference.

7:20. I fill up.

7:25. Back home. I gather up all the loose water bottles in the car. Might as well fill them, too. For sure, the power’s going out and I can’t remember whether the water flows when the power’s out.

7:30. A few email messages in from the Mainland. My sister reminds me not to be an idiot as I was in 1960. I respond that I’m 50 years older and most likely wiser.

7:59. I get out a general email reminding people who haven’t been at my house on Wailuku Drive in Pi’ihonua that it’s not near the shore. I put in a link to my TNB tsunami piece. I include Greg and Matt in the email: Matt because he’s lived in Hawai’i, and because I loved his Katrina piece, and Greg because I’ve been commiserating with him about the snow.

8:00. Sirens again.

8:20. Irving calls from the mainland. “Don’t go down to that bridge,” he says. We talk about snow.

8:40. I remember that my trailer can haul anything, not just waste. So I call my friend Alan at Alan’s Art and Antiques in case he needs help moving his stuff. Alan’s store is on the waterfront. He says No, I’m just taking a few things. And he reminds me that the 1957 Hilo Intermediate School yearbook that I haven’t picked up is at his house. So it’s safe, he says. I call Dragon Mama, Mrs. Suzuki, in case she needs help. She has a tatami, futon, and cloth place, also on the waterfront. A lot of our furniture came from her shop. She says No, we’re going to take a chance. She’s putting everything on the higher shelves and can tolerate a few feet of water in the store.

9:00. I call Carolyn. Does she know anybody who needs hauling help? It’s getting late, but I can hitch up quickly. No, she doesn’t. She lives up near the Volcano.

9:30. It’s a beautiful day. Sunny and cool. This is good, because if it gets bad down there, it’ll be easier for the workers.

9:35. I start thinking about where to go to watch. Charge the camera batteries. Charge the cell phones.

9:40. The tsunami ETA is 11:20. It’s nice when a pending disaster has a fairly precise schedule.

9:44. I start typing this. How did I forget about TNB? I need to mind my priorities. In a while I’ll drive down to town and see about a safe vantage point.

9:46. I hear that all water’s been shut off along coastal zones, so the tsunami can’t drive salt water and sewage into the system. I wonder if they did that in 1960?

10:00. Sirens again. It is a different sequence, I think. Longer. I head for town. Sailboats out beyond the breakwater. It’s a beautiful scene, like a regatta. But they’re fleeing to 100 fathom water. Most of the good vantage spots are taken. People have lawn chairs and even canopies in some of the best spots. I drive by the old Main Fire Station, where I went early in the morning in May 1960 to start trying to rescue people. Coming home, I drive past the old Hospital, which is now the County Annex. I feel it pulling me. From the road, I can see the old ambulance entrance. That’s where we took the dead bodies.

10:05. Ruth is on the phone talking to a friend in California. I feel a surge of irritation. A tsunami is coming! The ordinary world will be shaken. I immediately realize how ridiculous my feeling is. We’re in no danger at all.

10:10. A new ETA: 11:04. And no one will see it coming. On the Mainland, when there’s a winter storm or lake effect warning, I get the weather radar on my screen and see the trouble forming. See it moving. But this thing’s different. It’s out there, a wave front moving through deep water, not showing itself. For all that we’ve had hours of warning, when it does arrive, it’s going to leap up suddenly.

10:15. I stand on the porch, thinking. I go down to the van and open the hatch. Bungees and the tarp from my last dump run. I decide to leave them there. Somebody might need them. I walk into my shop and pick up my heavy ax. Should I put it in the van, just in case I have to do rescue work? I already have my biggest Gerber knife in my pocket, for the same reason. No, that’s silly. This isn’t 1960. Other people are ready to handle these things. And yet . . . I put the ax in the van. I keep my knife in my pocket. I feel simultaneously  well-prepared and silly.

10:30. Time to go. I tell Ruth she should wear sneakers, just in case we have to walk in wreckage. Is that going to happen? No. I put on my red Nike trail running shoes. Then I feel stupid, because I’m also wearing a red t-shirt. I hate thinking that anybody might think I chose my red shoes to go with my red shirt. I get in the car, Mister Red Man.

10:32. I run back inside to shut down all the computers. There could be a power surge, or the power could go out and the batteries run down before we get back.

10:35. Heading down the hill. I say to Ruth, If it happens, you’ll never forget what you’ll see. It’s a mighty force. I also use the word “inexorable,” which is a word I rarely use, but it’s the right word. The sea just keeps on coming at you. I want her to see it, so we can share it. She only knows about 1960 from my memories.

10:38. I’m thinking that Haili Street might be the best spot. The 1960 tsunami was also spawned in Chile, and it crashed into the Hamakua coast, out past Honoli’i, and then was reflected straight into Hilo Bay. Or at least that was the reconstruction – it was 1 AM that time, and so nobody actually saw it happen. Today, if this tsunami barrels at us out of the same direction, I’d like to see that reflection for myself. But from Haili St, we can’t see Honoli’i.

10:45. I drive down a little side street that parallels Haili, but I don’t grab a space for a while.  I find a parking place on Kapiolani. OK, it’s a good place, Honoli’i or no Honoli’i.

10:48. I tell Ruth, Let’s walk farther down towards the shore. We might be able to see out towards Honoli’i. We walk. The Water Department guys are driving around in their trucks. We get down where I hoped it might be good, but it’s not. Time to go back up the hill. I say, we might as well walk over to Waianuenue and go back up that way. We still have time. Ten minutes to go.

10:56. We’re walking back up Waianuenue, past my old elementary school. The sidewalks are crowded. More lawn chairs. I catch my toe on a sidewalk slab and stumble. A woman says, Don’t get hurt up here! I laugh. She asks, What’s it like down there? I say, Oh, it’s OK except the water’s boiling and it’s full of poisonous snakes. She laughs. Everybody laughs. I feel like a dork. I am a dork. This is surreal. Ruth and I are worried about getting back to Haili St in time for the show which, we know, starts at 11:04.

10:58. We get to the van. I whip a quick U-turn and get over to Haili St. There’s a place!

11:00. We walk up to where the view’s pretty good. Lots of people. There’s a guy wearing a “Harbor Security” patch. I wonder why he’s not down at the harbor, but I don’t say anything except that I’m a 1960 survivor. We talk about how teenagers believe they’re immortal.

11:02. Lots of sailing boats and some larger craft out past the breakwater. I’d be farther out, if I had a boat. I think I see a whale, but I’m not sure so I don’t say anything. But I start thinking about it. Will the whale be surprised? Then I think, No, probably there’s some acoustic energy preceding the wave. I don’t like thinking about a humpback being lifted over the breakwater and crashing into the shops along Kamehameha Avenue. But if it happens, I’ll get there with my camera somehow. It would be a great shot.

11:04. Show time! But there’s nothing. Helicopters – four of them, and now five, when they’re joined by a large Army chopper, down from the Pohakuloa Training Area. A Coast Guard C-130 rescue plane is circling, circling.

11:15. Nothing. There’s a bunch of teenagers sitting on a truck. I can’t resist, so I go over and tell them that when I was their age, I was down on the Wailuku bridge, and almost died. They’re impressed. What did you think? one asks. I’m going to fucking die! I say. They laugh. They’ll never fucking die.

11:20. Nothing, except I think one reef by the breakwater is exposed. I call to the kids, Look at the reef, it’s coming. I shape my voice to sound ominous. It doesn’t come. They are polite.

11:25. Nothing, except I realize that I’m leaning on a little pickup truck with an “Eddie Would Go” bumper sticker. This is very amusing, so I photograph Ruth and the Eddie Would Go sticker. Eddie Aikau was a famous big-wave surfer and lifeguard, who died in the Molokai Channel going for help when the double canoe Hokule’a overturned. I didn’t know Eddie but I did know somebody who sailed on Hokule’a.

11:40. Nothing. It’s hot. Maybe some other reefs are showing, maybe not. I can just barely see the tip of the breakwater, and it seems choppy there, as if something’s churning.

11:45. Nothing. I start talking to the woman whose house we’re in front of. Her family lost their fishing boat in 1960. We talk about 1960. She’s clearly pleased that nothing has happened. I’m not as pleased as she is. I admit this to myself. I want a 1960 replay except in daylight and with only a little destruction and nobody dead. I want to see it happening and not be terrified when I do.

11:55. Time to go. And yet . . . I can’t go home. So I head for Kaiwiki, where there’s a panoramic view of the bay. To get there, we drive across one of the Wailuku River bridges upstream from the bridge I was on. It’s packed with people. In 1960, people on this bridge saw me and my friends clinging to the bridge. They didn’t know who we were. In 2007 I ran into somebody in Buffalo whose father had been on that bridge, watching. He sent me an email: So you were one of those idiots.

12:10. Up to Kaiwiki. More spectators. Somebody in an old red Nissan Pathfinder has driven right out into the middle of an agricultural field. For a better view? It doesn’t seem better to me. We stay there a while. Nothing happening.

12:30. Down the hill. I’ll try Wainaku, near Alae Cemetery. Up Kulana Kea road with its No Trespassing signs, and a clump of orange cones that must have been strung out across the road this morning. Lots of cars. There are many giant raised-up pickups. I wish I had one to use today. Great view. I see serious churning in the bay, clearly a big outflow past the breakwater. And the waves against the breakwater seem more massive and synchronized than usual.

12:40. My son calls from the Adirondacks. Snow. Bad cell service. He didn’t know. He just saw my email on his iPhone. It’s all over, I tell him.

12:57. The whale breaches. So it was a whale. I keep my finger on the shutter and when it breaches again, I get it. Why don’t I have a huge telephoto? If I drop the whale image into my TNB piece, it’s going to be pixellated. People will laugh. The bay’s beautiful, but nothing’s happening.

1:00. Head home.

1:15. My stepson calls. What’s happening, I just saw it on the news. Well, it was nothing, and now it’s over.

1:20. Home. A bunch of emails, including one from Matt, who wishes the tsunami to pass like a flowing stream rather than a raging torrent. There’s one from Greg, who has snow and won’t have power until Tuesday. Those are worse circumstances than mine would have been, even if the tsunami had lived up to its billing.

1:30. How to make sense of the day? I can’t. It’s too complicated, emotionally. It’s wrong to feel disappointment because a natural disaster didn’t live up to expectations. It was so scheduled, and I admired that. The warning system, the computer models. The emergency preparations were precise and well-executed. Everything worked as it was supposed to. At Civil Defense they must be celebrating, and they should be. And yet I feel certain that among them, there are some who are disappointed that they will have very little post-tsunami work to do.

2:00. Well, for excitement I can thin my banana patch and take a load to the dump. I put the ax back in the shop. I get my machete and fell a couple of dozen bananas, and load the heavy green-black trunks, wetting myself with their juices. It’s the only water that’s hit me today. I hitch up the trailer and head down the hill for The Dump.

2:15. Oh, the Dump is closed today.

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DON MITCHELL is a writer and ecological anthropologist, born and raised in Hilo, Hawai'i (where he graduated from a public high school -- in Hawai'i, that's important). He has published academic works, poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and both published and exhibited photographs. He recently published a story collection, A Red Woman Was Crying, and is working on a novel set on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, where he did fieldwork. He lives happily in Hilo with his college girlfriend, a poet and yoga teacher, whom he lost for forty years but, lucky for him, finally found.

60 responses to “Tsunami 2010”

  1. Simon Smithson says:

    I’m glad to hear there was no tsunami, Don. The upper East Coast of Australia was on alert too – and it’s always relieving (though anticlimactic) to know that while the systems were ready, the disaster did not occur.

    Also, I’m glad to know you’re the kind of guy who keeps an eye on blocking fire engine exits. It’s the little things.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Hey, Simon. It’s interesting to think about how, if you’re on one side of a huge body of water, that there could be something clear over on the other side that can cause you trouble. It’s good that it didn’t come to Oz.

  2. Jude says:

    Great recording of the day’s events Don.

    We, in NZ were also on high alert…but nothing eventuated. Like you in Hawaii there were a few swells and a bit of swirling water, but that’s all. The most amusing part of the day was when I heard on radio, a report from a guy who was on a small island just off the coast of Gisborne. He was there fishing with his uncle and daughter. He said he was down on the beach bringing in his cray pots and checking his nets. It was suggested to him that he should head for higher ground – he laughed and said there was no higher ground to go to! Later on in the day he was back on the radio, talking about the effects… he hadn’t noticed much except that his nets had yielded a very good catch. A happy outcome…

    So not such an exciting day as far as voyeurism goes…but ah well, there’s always The Dump!

  3. Matt says:

    Very nice reportage, Don, and I’m glad the warnings turned out to be so much fizzle.

    We had even had a tsunami warning down here but it turned out to be little more than a high surf advisory. My friends and I spent the day keeping an eye on the news, watching for updates on Chile and the possibility of tsunamis in the Pacific. One of the local news channels kept piping in feed from Hilo.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      I know you had a warning. I was thinking about how Southern California has probably lost more property to storms, landslides, and fires than Hawai’i ever lost to tsunami.

      I think I saw spectators with their iPhones, looking at video. It reminded me of spectators at a football game watching on portable TVs.

      One guy had his Macbook and was pointing its iSight camera — awkwardly — at the Bay.

  4. Anon says:

    Nice accounting, Don. It was telling to me how much I’ve enjoyed TNB because, when I turned on the news yesterday morning and heard that Hawai’i was in the crosshairs, my first thought was, “Hope Don makes it out okay.” Personally, I always choose “prepared and feeling silly” over “lacking and feeling stupid… and dead”.

    While there was – thankfully! – no drama, the news footage was awesome. It’s been a number of years since I’ve been out your way and seeing that regatta and the breaching whale made me contemplate dealing with TSA fuckwits and traveling with two small kids just to return again. Jury’s still out on that one.

    Loved your exchange with the teenagers, btw…. (:

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Well, we are rather a little community here. And we can easily see where we all live (or say we live . . . I really live in Rahway, NJ).

      Yep, prepared. I got kicked out of Boy Scouts, but the motto stuck.

      Two small kids, long flights. As the saying goes, Ya gotta want to.

      • Anon says:

        Distance is good for scaling back the riff-raff, huh? I’d bought some pretty remote acreage a while back – we use it two or three times a year for a family getaway – and the realtor who showed it to us asked if we were certain we wanted something so off the beaten path. I told him, “If it was easy to get to, everyone would get here.”

        So, um… why’d you get booted from the Scouts? (:

        • Don Mitchell says:

          Laughing during the Pledge of Allegiance. As I remember, before the meeting started we had been laughing at page 400-something in the Scout manual, where we were instructed about masturbation. I thought it was pretty silly and the silliness returned to me somewhere in the Pledge, probably around “for which it stands.”

          It doesn’t seem as though that should have been enough for banishment, but it was. Maybe the Scoutmaster spotted my dangerous radical left tendencies early on.

        • Anon says:

          “Radical left”, eh? I take it the manual instructed you to use your right hand, then?

        • Don Mitchell says:

          Damn, I can’t remember.

          But seriously, I do remember that we boys all knew which page number it was — I keep thinking page 412 — and like the joke about the comedians who gave their jokes numbers so they didn’t have to tell them to each other, we would just say “412!” and dissolve into adolescent laughter. Ah, the days.

  5. Lorna says:

    Better to be safe than sorry. It’s kind of sad how the tsunami warnings trumped the actual event that triggered the warnings. It was after all the tsunami hype had dissipated that I wondered about the damages in Chili.

    I am pleased that the Tsunami did not occur as I have recently hooked up with a couple of former classmates that live in Hawaii.

  6. Darian Arky says:

    My son is at UHM. He took the whole thing with aplomb while his mother and I and his grandmother all responsibly panicked in a very adult way. Meanwhile, emergencies and disasters are exciting, and I’ve taken my own (subsequently slightly guilty) pleasure in matching myself against them and coming through the other side. It’s natural. Adrenaline is intoxicating.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Both UHM and UHH are at significant elevations, so the students have to make an effort to get into danger. Right? Right.

      It’s true about matching oneself against disasters — the adrenaline part, anyway.

  7. I was waiting for the Ohio tsunami.

  8. You are right, Don, it’s nice to know when the disaster is coming. It’s a bit like knowing the date of the end of the world, isn’t it? ( No Mayan calendar, I’m not referring to you.)

    I am so glad you are all okay– I thought of you yesterday as I saw shots of the beautiful coastline on television– ( Honestly– the voice over reporter narrating the scene kept saying: any minute now for about ten minutes) somehow, I never doubted that, this time ( after reading your Tsunami TNB piece) you would be prepared.

    About those banana trunks– Is the dump open today?

    • Don Mitchell says:

      The dump is open and in a few minutes I’ll make the first run of the day.

      I know what you mean about the “any minute now.” Those announcers do know how to fill dead air when it’s a situation they’re comfortable with, but when it’s something new it seems they can’t quite get the patter going right.

      Speaking of thinking about … presumably you got whacked along with everybody else. If you’re online then I suppose you have power.

  9. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Don,

    I thought about you all day. I’m so glad you, and the rest of Hawaii were spared! That was really frightening!

    I think you should build a really, really tall, sturdy concrete tower. This way if such a thing is threatened again, you and your sweetie can climb up to the top with your animals and be safe.
    Get started. I want updates.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Lucky for me, the goddess Pele made my tower for me — 800 feet high, solid lava. I guess it would take an asteroid strike to launch a tsunami high enough to take out my house. On the other hand, it’s all but certain that sooner or later Pele will launch an attack from upslope, where I’m vulnerable.

      The Wailuku River is about 200 yards away, but my house is on Pele’s side, meaning that it’s “under the volcano,” as it were, with respect to Mauna Loa — which is active. The other side of the river is the Pig God Kamapua’a’s side. Over there, you’re safe from everything. Pele can’t get you, tsunami can’t get you . . . it’s all good.

      But that’s Hilo. Vulnerable from the sea, vulnerable from the mountain. Probably that’s why the tourists don’t come.

  10. Mary says:

    When I was a kid, we were always under a hurricane warning, and there were a couple times we stayed up late watching the news and wondering if we should evacuate. Once, my dad and brothers went out in the yard to flip over the trampoline in case the wind got strong enough to scoop it up like a sale without a boat. But we never evacuated, and we never got hit by anything until I moved to Texas, and then Katrina and Rita hit one after the other while I was far away and sortof oblivious, and I felt like an asshole about it, and I felt I’d missed something major, and I should’ve been grateful, but I wasn’t. I did feel guilty, though, because my whole family had to evacuate even though our house was untouched. They all camped out on the floor of someone’s vacant home in Mississippi or Alabama (I was so detached, I still don’t know where they went to escape) and had no air conditioning and no electricity, and no privacy for a week or two, and I cared except I had already bought a plane ticket to visit my boyfriend in Maryland, so when they asked if they could come to Texas and stay with me, I couldn’t help. Or didn’t help. My sister’s dog got in a fight with my roommate’s dog, and that was the end of that, I guess.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Far away and sort of oblivous and felt like an asshole about it . . . I know just what you mean. In the years that I’ve been coming back to Hilo (not that many, actually, just since 2008) the bad natural stuff has happened back in Western NY — snow, flooding, all that. And I missed it, and felt guilty.

      I really do like your run-on comment. I’m a sucker for stream-of-consciousness writing, but I try to hold back because it’s dangerous, like a firehose that might get away from you. Compelling, though.

      • Mary says:

        That was my long winded way of saying I liked this piece, and I related to it.

        • Don Mitchell says:

          What’s cool about your comment is that it can stand alone, all 239 words of it.

          I’ve tried a few of those 200 or 250 words or less contests. Never scored, but the exercise is great.

          Flash nonfiction. We have that on TNB but I’ve never explored it.

        • Mary says:

          Brevity is a tricky line to walk. Throughout school, I typically lost points on papers for writing too short, not because I didn’t meet the word count but because I skipped over details that I thought were obvious. I tend to assume the reader knows things or sees things from my perspective. Writing short on purpose is hard to do well. That’s something I’m trying to work on. Some writers can ramble on for pages without telling me anything I care about: if the layout of the garden doesn’t come into play in the plot later, I sincerely do not want to know what kinds of flowers you have planted there, ok? On the other hand I need to learn not to shy away from details that can enrich a story. Tricky indeed. Such a fun challenge though. Really, I’m such a writing geek. I love playing with these details like some kind of literary equation. I’m just testing all the variables. Comments on TNB are a fun place to loosen up and communicate creatively. I love this community pretty hard for that reason.

  11. Zara Potts says:

    Man, me too!!
    We got the call to evacuate at 6.50am and spent the next hour loading computers, dogs and babies into the car. We took to higher ground and waited.. and waited.. and waited. Nothing. No tsunami. Very disappointing! Still, I should be thankful seeing as I can’t swim.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Did you have an actual place to go to, like a residence? Or were you stuck on a highway or in park, that sort of thing?

      I dunno about that new gravatar. I was fond of your old one.

      • Zara Potts says:

        No, we went to a hill!
        Just for you, Don – I have changed my gravatar back!

        • Anon says:

          You may have done it for Don but it is appreciated by more. Not that the “Good job, Tulip” wasn’t delightful but I am only human.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Yes! I am back! Tulip head just wasn’t me. I just said on my post , what a lovely new gravatar you have, Anon. Very nice!

        • Anon says:

          And, as I replied there, thank you kindly for the compliment.

        • Don Mitchell says:

          Nope, you’re still good job tulip on my screen.

          But when I get back from The Dump, maybe you’ll be your old self again.

          Does this make me conservative? Against new gravatars? Maybe I’ll get a new one myself. I’ve been thinking about going to the same place it was taken (in 2003, on Mauna Kea) and having a new one taken. I still have the t shirt. I haven’t aged at all, right?

        • Anon says:

          No, you’re just reflecting the prevailing attitude of seeing things the way you think they should be rather than as they are (:. I’d make a socialist nanny-state joke about needing someone to tell you exactly how to see things but even joking about politics tends to add a pinch of ugly to any recipe. For the gravatars, though, you’ll want to clear your cache and then reload the page or “do it Rich-style” by using Shift+Ctrl-R to reload just this page.

          Or, if you’re on a Mac, you can wait for Erika Rae and ask her what she did (it may have involved a hamster sacrifice – I don’t know).

        • Don Mitchell says:

          Quitting and then restarting Firefox did it. Page refresh didn’t. And yeah, I’m on a Mac.

          Another hamster saved!

        • Jude says:

          If you’re on a Mac, just press Shift and click the Refresh button. Another plus for Mac users!

  12. Richard Cox says:

    Hi Don,

    Glad to hear you’re okay, that disaster turned out not to happen. Seems so mysterious to me, how to know which earthquakes will trigger a tsunami and which won’t. It sure was a big quake.

    I hope there’s a special place reserved in Hell for people who block driveways when they are waiting in a long line of cars, especially if it’s a fire station. And for people who park in the fire lane at the grocery store because they’re too lazy to walk from the parking lot. And…well, I could go on and on here, but I won’t. Haha.

    Very nice account of the day.

  13. Don Mitchell says:

    It is mysterious, which means — as if I had to tell you — it’s not yet well-understood. This one really should have, because it was under the sea floor. I wonder how many buoys are out there in the Pacific, monitoring. Are there some data points that will show how/where the energy dissipated?

    I’m glad you liked the piece. I guess it’s as close to journalism as I’ve ever come.

  14. Paul Clayton says:

    Don, thanks for your on-the-scene piece on the wave. Now I’ll have to read your piece on the 60’s one. Although I was here (San Francisco) for the Loma Prieta earthquage, I didn’t even know it hit, when it hit, but had to piece it together later. Anyway, I like the article peppered with the pics. But keep your guard up. These quakes and waves like to sneak up on you. Watch your back!

  15. I’m glad there was no tsunami…

    In Japan they had their first tsunami warning in about 15 yrs. Apparently a 3 ft tall wave plowed into the northern half of the country. I couldn’t even imagine such a thing.

    In Korea they’re not really used to tsunamis, but last year there was a very popular movies about a giant wave destroying Busan. So I guess Koreans were probably pretty scared… Except that winter Olympic success pretty much pacified the nation.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      A giant wave destroying Busan.

      Is there a tradition of Korean Godzilla/titanic disaster type films?

      I always liked that Gary Larson cartoon with a little monster facing a sign “You Must Be This Tall To Attack The City.”

      And yes about the skating. I think it’s interesting when one nation finds a sport that suits them. Presumably they have a whole system in place to find the promising kids and bring them along.

      • Korea doesn’t have a strong film history, but in recent years they’ve blown us all away with a few great movies. Admittedly, those movies come from one director… But they’re awesome. More psychological than monster or disaster, though.

        Korea does this every time someone succeeds at something. The whole Confucianism/Collectivist society thing means that they all see themselves as literally brother and sister, and whatever one can do, the other can do. Not only is a Korean victory a personal triumph for every Korea, it means they could do it again…

        A few years ago a Korean person got really good at archery. This was followed by Koreans signing their children up for archery lessons en masse. A monster movie was made about an archer.

        Then came skating… Koreans just fly about on ice skates now, seriously thinking they’re Kim Yuna.

  16. angela says:

    glad you’re okay, don! like everyone said, nice reporting. i really like this line: “I want a 1960 replay except in daylight and with only a little destruction and nobody dead. I want to see it happening and not be terrified when I do.”

    it’s a familiar feeling and yet i’ve never experienced a natural disaster.

  17. Don Mitchell says:

    Thanks, Angela.

    Maybe a small earthquake for you?

    I think it’s probably a common feeling. I’ve been thinking about storms, their scale. I don’t think I’d ever been in a big snowstorm until I moved to Buffalo. So after a few, I thought I had a feeling for what a storm was. Then came the Blizzard of 77, and I learned that there was a whole upper level of storming.

    Now, a tornado. I’ve never been in one. To me, that seems monumentally terrifying.

  18. Slade Ham says:

    When the news was covering this, they kept showing footage of a surfer out in the water, most likely some old stock Hawaii footage. Still, as I imagined the tsunami coming in with that guy out in th e surf, I couldn’t help but think, “Eddie would go.”

    I’m happy that it passed so silently.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      I think the surfer dude in the water was off Honolulu, but from what I hear, he really was out there.

      So now you too have a monochrome gravatar. Have I missed something? Is this the new cool thing?

      I don’t want to fall behind the curve, here.

      • Slade Ham says:

        The monochromatic avatar started a week or so ago and ran it’s course. Believe me, you are missing nothing at all, hahaha. Anon, Rich, Zara… someone explained it on another post I think. I’m going to add some color to mine, as the trend is pretty much over.

        I can’t imagine riding a tsunami to shore. Certainly one of the aforementioned invincible teenagers.

  19. I loved this. So awesome.

    Are fathoms metric? I was going to say something about how silly it is for that confusion, and lament that the US is one of only, like, three countries in the world who haven’t converted, but then I realized I wasn’t sure. I could Wiki it, but where would be the fun in that?

    “My sister reminds me not to be an idiot as I was in 1960. I respond that I’m 50 years older and most likely wiser.”

    Having met you, sir, this made me chuckle. Mostly because you strike me as one of the sagely Zen sorts with full awareness that idiot and wiser may not be mutually exclusive. Which is why I particularly enjoyed the moment you spoke to the teens on the truck.

    We’ll never fucking die!

  20. Don Mitchell says:

    I think that fathoms, like knots, have staying power. Maybe they are considered in some way neither metric nor imperial, but instead just old special-purpose units that might as well continue?

    A fathom is 6 feet, which is where I think the announcers got a twisted up. Too many multiplications. Hundred-fathom depth is what was being recommended — 600 feet. 600 fathoms would be, let’s see here, my calculator says 3,600 feet.

    Heh. That’s a good one, about the non-mutually exclusive idiocy and wisdom.

  21. Greg Olear says:

    This is a great piece, Don. Or should I say, Red Man. It is amazing that we have the technology to know exact times, to mobilize, to keep people safe.

    But I also understand the inkling to watch, to behold the destruction. It’s rare that you get to experience something like that first hand, and you want to have something to experience. I don’t know enough about psychology to guess at why, other than we humans are fascinated with, if not obsessed by, the prospect of our own destruction.

    And thanks for the mention. Soon as I heard about the tsunami — our power was already dead by then, and the countryside covered in cement-like snow — I wondered if you were OK, so I was glad to get your email. It wound up being an inconvenience, which is the best you can hope for when really bad weather happens.

    Northeast snow and power outages, earthquake in Chile, earthquake in Japan, potential tsunami…all that was missing was Pat Robertson going on TV and blaming it all on God being angry for us revisiting US attitude toward gays in the military.

    Off to read the older piece.


  22. Don Mitchell says:

    Ah, cement snow. I know what you mean. I spent much of yesterday digging out stumps with a pickaxe, an ax, a shovel, and the tool that in Hawai’i we call an o’o, a heavy metal digging stick.

    What this has to do with cement snow and snow shovelling/ice chopping, as I imagine you doing, is that when I got tired, I just stopped for a moment. The worst thing that happened was that sweat ran down over my glasses and I had to wipe them.

    With snow/ice — as if I had to tell you — you stop too long, you get cold, whatever sweat you’ve generated starts to freeze on you, and you can’t really say, Well, I’ll come back in an hour, because you’re probably trying to get your car out or in.

    Probably the same amount of energy expended in both cases, but the warm-weather variety gives you a lot more latitude. I guess it’s less latitude, actually. You’re almost exactly 22 degrees N of me.

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