clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Utahns, other tourists in Hawaii act fast in preparing for tsunami

LAHAINA, Maui — When Wayne and Paula Birch escaped the cold of a Green River, Wyo., winter for a vacation in Maui last year, they expected to watch whales leap and take warm sunset strolls on a beautiful beach.

Instead, they got record cold and spent their vacation on the beach, huddled in blankets.

In January of this year, the Birches were playing golf in Palm Springs, Calif., when the area was inundated with mudslides. So Paula Birch approached her Maui vacation this year with a wary eye and a sense of humor.

"I said, 'You watch — this year we'll have a tsunami in Maui,' " she said.

Fast-forward to Friday, when a magnitude-8.8 earthquake hit Chile and generated a tsunami wave that lapped at Hawaii Saturday, generating fairly gentle swells of about 3 feet. Paula Birch heard the tsunami warning Friday night.

"I said, 'You really do have to be kidding me,' " she said Saturday. "People are telling me it's my fault."

The Birches are in the midst of a three-week vacation at a timeshare property on Maui's Kaanapali coast. Early Saturday, they stocked up on water and other staples and moved their car from its underground parking spot to an area uphill from their hotel. They waited out the tsunami from their 10th-floor unit, anxiously watching the beach.

"The water will go out, and I can see the rocks, and all of a sudden they'll go away (as the water rises), then they'll be exposed again," Paula Birch said shortly before the tsunami watch was canceled at 1:47 p.m. local time. "It's happened three or four times, and that's all, and I'm so happy."

She didn't mind spending most of the beautiful 80-degree day indoors, or begrudge the money spent on extra supplies.

"I would just as soon get all ready and panic and then be happy and relax, rather than have no warning and people get hurt," Birch said.

As waves began to arrive early Saturday afternoon at Hilo, on Hawaii's big island, waters quickly rose up to around 3 feet higher than normal, and then just as quickly receded, like a huge tub being filled and drained, over and over. Low-lying areas of all the islands saw repeated flows of up to 3 feet or so.

Bary and Jan Gammell of Midvale arrived in Maui on Tuesday night. After hearing on the news late Friday, local time, about the tsunami headed for Hawaii, Bary Gammell said he set his alarm for 6 a.m.

"The manager here (at the hotel) knocked on our door sooner and told us to turn on the TV, so we started listening," Gammell said.

Hotel management recommended staying on the resort property, but the Gammells headed for higher ground at the Plantation golf course nearby.

"We've been up here since 7:30 this morning, along with about 2,000 other people," Gammell said Saturday afternoon when it became apparent that the tsunami was not going to be a major event. "We're going to stay here another hour and then go shopping."

He said they had plenty of food they purchased when the tsunami warning was first issued, but they also were planning to find a good restaurant and just generally take it easy.

"This has been interesting," Gammell said. "We knew we were safe, but it also gave us things to think about, about emergency preparedness at home."

He said they were looking forward to the rest of their vacation. And if nothing else, the tsunami would give him something interesting to write about in his journal.

"This will just add to the interest in the years to come," Gammell said.

Early Saturday, guests of Maui resorts flocked to convenience stores for water and food staples, and lined up at cash machines. Other guests made runs to local stores and to Costco, often the first stop after the airport for tourists heading to timeshare and condo properties. Local Costco managers reported that, even at Costco gas stations with 20 pumps, cars were waiting up to half a mile away prior to the tsunami.

Salt Lake resident Paul McAllister is in the midst of a business trip to Oahu, installing phones in an office of his company, Healthways. He was working overnight at the office when, at 4 a.m., he heard the tsunami warning.

"I was really glad to not be in Waikiki and have to evacuate vertically rather than get out and find my own place," McAllister said.

He looked out the windows at about 4:30 a.m. and saw a dozen cars lined up at a nearby gas station.

"I drove to the all-night Safeway and bought about $250 of supplies," McAllister said, adding that he waited in line 45 minutes despite the early hour. He then called his wife and enlisted her help in using Google Maps to navigate him to a nice, high spot.

"I'm a thousand feet up on a hill," McAllister said, along with hundreds of other Hawaiians who were taking the tsunami warning with patience and humor.

"Hawaiians are pretty chilled about things," he said, adding that by 1 p.m. or so, many people had left for lower ground. "I think everybody feels relieved. It was pretty thrilling for everybody, and they're as quietly relieved now as they were quietly worried earlier."

e-mail: gkratz@desnews.com; skratz@desnews.com