Yesterday around 9PM I saw on social media that Hawaii was in a tsunami watch with a predicted 1AM arrival time. There had been an 8.2 earthquake off the Alaska coast. I pulled out my guest contact information and started calling our guests, starting with the ones needing to prepare for evacuation. Thankfully by the time I was done (and had filled my own bathtub with water, started the dishwasher and plugged in my phone), the watch was called off. It’s good to be prepared.
The likelihood of there being a tsunami while you are on vacation 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.
Far away earthquake
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). For Maui specific news, follow MauiNow and Maui247 on Facebook or Instagram.
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 are monthly emergency tests 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.
What happens in a tsunami
Prior to the tidal wave, the water will recede further than normal, and then come rushing back in. This more extreme wave action will continue for multiple hours. Here is a NOAA animation of what can happen.
You will want to avoid going into the ocean for a day or two after a tsunami as the ocean is in turmoil, normal currents disrupted. The water will be brown and sharks hunting for food.
If you are familiar with our Sugar Beach condo, the former resident manager Cliff Jordan (now a local realtor) filmed this incredible footage after the Japanese tsunami in March 2011. Note, that tsunami hit Maui around 3AM. Cliff filmed this four hours after the initial waves hit. The initial waves came as far as the BBQ area but also circled around the building and flooded the parking lot. Thankfully the groundfloor condos were not flooded, however guests in the first three floors were evacuated. Ma’alaea Harbor sustained significant damage, in Kihei portions of South Kihei Road were covered in sand, fish and coral.
Do you need to evacuate?
How do you know if you are in an evacuation area? Here is NOAA’s tsunami evacuation map, if you allow it to know your location it reduces the need to search and guess. Kamaole Sands and Sugar Beach condos, you are in the evacuation area. 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. In the past Safeway parking lot has become a bit of a town party. County shelters don’t open until after a tsunami has occurred
- on Maui shelters do NOT provide anything besides a roof and bathrooms. You will need to bring all your own supplies
- 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)
- ensure you have working flash lights and your phones are charged (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, sinks, pots 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).
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