April is Tsunami Awareness Month in Hawaii. The likelihood of there being a tsunami while you are on holiday is very slim, and yet, it’s a good idea to know what to expect.
Tsunamis are caused by displacement of ocean water, usually by earthquakes. There are two types of tsunamis – those caused by a local earthquake and those caused by earthquakes far away.
If it is a local earthquake and you are at the beach, there will be little time for warning. Here are the signs to look for:
- sudden pulling back of the water
- earth moving for at least 20 seconds, possibly knocking people to the ground
- hearing the ocean roar
If you experience any of these while at the beach, you should move away from the beach to at least 100 feet above sea level (one mile inland or in a pinch at least to the fourth floor of an apartment building). If it is a local earthquake, the tsunami waves could arrive within minutes.
If it is a far away earthquake, there will be more warning time. The NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center tracks all earthquakes and monitors their DART buoys for possible tsunamis. Should there be a tsunami headed our way, they issue alerts via local media (radio, local TV stations etc). You can find warnings on facebook and twitter (try hashtag #hitsunami).
The most obvious warning will come from the tsunami sirens located wherever there is danger of flooding (if you are in a remote location, there may not be a siren). When there is a tsunami warning, these will start wailing (steady three minute tone), fortunately not non-stop but at regular intervals (note: there is a monthly emergency systems test the first day of every month at 11:45 – don’t panic!) If the sirens start wailing, listen to the local news and follow their directions. Warnings will always tell you when the first tidal wave is expected to arrive. Please listen to these warnings and obey them.
How do you know if you are in an evacuation area? Here are two evacuation maps for Kihei/Wailea, you can also look on the County of Maui website in the phone book (we have them in all our condos). If you are staying in our Kihei Surfside and Sugar Beach condos, you are in the evacuation area. If you are staying at our Maui Kamaole or Palms at Wailea condo, you are NOT in the evacuation zone (you do not need to evacuate).
If you need to evacuate:
- pack your valuables and documents.
- pack food and drink, a flashlight and blanket. Bring some beach chairs along too, evacuations can take a while.
- close windows and lock the condo behind you.
- head out of the evacuation zone. There are churches (Kihei Lutheran and Hope Chapel) along the Piilani Hwy that open their parking lots to those who need to evacuate. I’ve also been told the Safeway parking lot becomes a town party. County shelters don’t open until after a tsunami has occurred.
- do not return into the evacuation area until officials give the go-ahead. Remember, it isn’t just one tidal wave, they come in sets for several hours. If there is damage, it may not be safe to go back – so please wait.
If you are not in the evacuation zone:
- avoid unnecessary driving (the roads get really clogged).
- make sure you have working flash lights (there is always the possibility of a power outage).
- make sure you have lots of drinking water and also water to wash (clean and fill the bathtub for non-drinking water purposes).
- listen to the local news – before the tsunami wave is expected to arrive, the County shuts down the sanitary sewer system. Avoid using the toilet once that happens – when the sanitary sewer is shut down, all sewer will go directly into the ocean.
It will be very difficult to find local Maui specific tsunami information. Most of the news will be about Oahu (this is frustrating).
Please do not put your life and that of others (who may have to save you) at risk by going to the beach to watch!
Here is a great list of frequently asked questions from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
Here is a cute and yet informational video from San Diego County explaining about tsunamis (use this link if it doesn’t load).