It was not just another day at work. We were ready for the weekend. It was Aloha Friday. Just one more late newscast to go.
A bold bulletin flashes across our computer screens.
We go from relaxed to tense.
It reads: “The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has issued a Tsunami warning for Hawaii”.
The entire state is now in harm's way after a powerful magnitude 8.8 earthquake off the coast of Chile.
Keahi jumped out of his chair and yelled,” We got breaking news!”
Guy Hagi immediately did a live break-in to explain the threat that was coming our way.
Goodbye weekend. Hello, long night.
Hawaii hasn’t had a Pacific-wide tsunami warning since 1964. A “warning” is the highest alert and it means a tsunami is imminent and coming. We’ve all seen how deadly they can be and a warning is not to be taken lightly.
Producers Anthony Ferreira and Jason Austin quickly decide to send our photographer Glenn Tengan with our live truck to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach so that we could learn the latest information from the experts.
When the clock struck 10, Keahi and I went on the air to tell our viewers... a tsunami is coming.
In our live interviews with scientists and geologists, we were told to expect the first one at about 11:18 Saturday morning. The Big Island and Hilo would see it first. But our biggest question was -- just how big of a tsunami should we expect? The answer was a pretty discomforting one for me and Keahi. We’ve never experienced anything like this before and have only seen video images of tsunamis and their widespread destruction in news reports. Chris McCreery from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center told us that it was too soon to tell the size of the tsunami. So, we asked him to explain the difference between a regular surfing wave (something we are very familiar with) to a tsunami. He went on to say a tsunami is more powerful, lasts longer and stretches out over far distances and that unlike sets that roll into one shore, a tsunami can wrap around the Hawaiian Islands and hit ALL shores.
"Because of the magnitude of this quake, an 8.8, there is a possibility we may see coastal damage and flooding," said McCreery. "This is also a much more stronger quake than the one that devastated Haiti."
Time was on our side to notify the public of the emergency because of Hawaii’s distance from Chile. We stayed on the air to keep everyone in Hawaii up to date by providing live coverage on all three stations (KHNL, KGMB, and K-FVE) from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. when anchors Tannya Joaquin and Steve Uyehara took over. What was unfolding in Hawaii was also being watched by people on the mainland who could see our coverage live on MSNBC.
I arrived home at around 5-30-ish in the morning feeling a bit loopy and exhausted from talking for several hours straight but I was still pumped from the adrenaline rush of the breaking news. My body begged for sleep, but the uncertainty of what was coming, kept me up. I also knew we were just 30 minutes away from the tsunami sirens sounding off.
So .... I stayed awake for the next several hours with one eye on Hawaii News Now’s live coverage and the other on the stretch of ocean fronting my home. (Not to worry friends, I was in a safe zone so I didn’t need to evacuate).
I can best describe what it felt like afterwards AS.... watching a really hyped up movie and waiting a long time for the big climax. We waited past the forecast arrival time and then, the tsunami finally arrived at around noon and the first signs of its arrival could be seen in an exclusive live picture of Hilo Bay. Guy pointed out the dramatic changes happening before our eyes, the rise and fall of the water level and the brown jagged reefs, once submerged, now exposed. I liked how Guy explained the ebb and flow was much like the ocean taking a big inhale and exhale. Although the changes were a bit subtle and nothing violent, it was still very amazing to see mother nature act in a way I've never seen before.
Jim Mendoza and Dan Cooke talked about the big crowds gathering in Waikiki and at the popular lookouts such as Diamond Head, all hoping to see something much bigger come our way. They waited and waited and in the end, nothing big ever came our way. The warning was eventually dropped. Soon, cars were whizzing by on roadways and a once empty Honolulu Harbor became filled with the familiar hustle and bustle of boats and one very big cruise ship that sounded off its fog horn as it proudly docked near Aloha Tower and let off hundreds of smiling tourists.
While it was a relief a destructive tsunami did not crash onto our shores, I suspect some people returned home pretty disappointed the February 27th event did not live up to “towering tidal wave” status. I can see why it was a big let down after all those warnings, live news coverage and the advice from State and City officials to take precaution.
Here’s my take: Better safe than sorry and it could have been much worse!!!
Let this day go down in history as the day ... OUR state SURVIVED a tsunami WITHOUT a scratch! It is truly a blessing.
I hope we can learn from this experience so when the time comes, we will be better prepared.
A BIG MAHALO to the Federal, City & State workers, emergency responders, American Red Cross volunteers, everyone at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, and last but not least -- the entire Hawaii News Now team for working around the clock and sacrificing your sleep to make sure everyone in Hawaii is safe.