Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tsunami Maui

Last week when the earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck so tragically in Japan, Padma and I were enjoying a birthday-week for Padma on Maui, South Kihei. I penned the note below to friends at Ananda Community in Lynnwood, WA the next day after the excitement and concerns had passed along with the six foot surge that appeared on the beach down the street from our rented condo.

Who cannot be say or feel that the pace and scope of natural calamties isn't but growing. It may not be factually true, and it may be, rather, that our awareness and sympathies with others even half way round the world have grown (instead), but something seems to have grown in recent years. At Ananda we will take up collections to send off to Japan along with our many prayers.

Our little experience on Maui was both sobering and instructive. Sobering is obvious. Instructive for the importance of preparedness, calmness, grace, and community in times of crises.

Here then for other friends at a distance is the account I sent just over a week ago:

Dear friends,

Thank you for your concerns. Today here in Maui all is calm as if nothing happened. We were up all night but it seems like a dream now.

We were minding our own business last night watching the movie TITANIC (ironically) when the news came of the earthquake in japan. Normally at home we don't watch tv or have cable but we switched to the incredible scenes of the tsunami engulfing the towns of coastal japan.

Only after sometime did it occur to us that it could have any impact on us on maui. Announcements were made on tv. Emergency broadcasts interrupted the coverage and after a time the sirens along the beach front began to wail.

We are one block from the beach. I can see the waves right now as I type. But our unit is on the 4th floor and the building runs perpendicular to the beach alonside a road which runs uphill towards the mountains behind us.

It's 4000 miles to japan from here. It was hard to take the warnings seriously and easy to assume the officials were doing their civic duty.

But we kept getting concerned phone calls from friends around the country. What caught my attention was the repeated assertion on the news that the earthquake was among the largest ever recorded in history. Add to that the graphic tv images of the destructive power of the tsunami in japan and it was easy to be shaken, if not stirred: one's confidence waning with each image. The experts on TV didn't add much confidence, either, all admitting they don't really know how far away shores would be affected.

After some discussion between padma and I (she was ready to head for the hills--readily available, just up the street, so to speak), I proposed to move our rental car to higher ground. This I did right away and just in time because as I walked down the hill the road alongside our condo was suddenly a sea of cars, bumper to bumper as tourists and locals were fleeing in large numbers to higher ground. It didn't add any comfort to the decision I had proposed.

There was a news announcement on tv that the U.S. naval fleet commander for the Pacific had decided NOT to move the ships out of Pearl Harbor. That seemed to mean a lot to me as to the size and power of the waves as they perceived it.

Nonetheless, I was braced for and resigned to the possibility that the ground floor of our buildings would be inundated, partially destroyed perhaps and that the power would go out immediately. We only had a few hours left to 3 a.m., the time expected for the first wave (and not necessarily the biggest one).

So padma cooked all the food we had in the refrigerator, and we filled everything we could find with water from the tap.

With air raid (tsunami) sirens wailing every half hour, the wait began. By this time, the area around us and beach were all but abandoned. We couldn't tell who else in the condo complex had stayed but most cars in the lot, like my own, were gone. There lay upon the area an eerie calm. The TV screen was regularly blanked out and replaced by emergency broadcasts warning residents in the pre-determined tsunami danger zones to head for high ground.

They didn't want others to leave because of traffic jams (I suppose). We were told to check the phone book for the routes and for the zones. I found our phone book and saw that only the beach side of the South Kihei road (which lay between us and the beach) was in the zone. Yet the announcements said anyone within a kilometer of the beach, and that certainly included us.

I held fast to my decision and my calmness around it.

I had, just that afternoon, dropped (our son) Kashi and Jesse at the airport for their return trip to seattle. (Kashi was on business in Honolulu and they stayed with us for two days.) I texted them so that upon their arrival in Seattle they would know what had happened and of our plight.

They got right to work on searching the internet for information on what we might expect from the incoming tsunami. With the NOAH webiste and Google Earth Kashi gave me by phone all sorts of data, none of which looked very encouraging. His advice: flee! I held tight, without saying too much. I still felt quietly protected and calm.

(We didn't have internet in our room. We only had our Blackberries which are not very useful, though I determined early on that the distance from Japan to Maui was just under 4,000 miles. Seemed pretty safe, somehow!)

Astonishgly the cable tv had no local channels unless you include luau's and hulu dancers. It was all for tourists, I guess. It was difficult to get any specific information. (It never occurred to me to call down to the office reception area, though it is not a hotel but a condo, so there aren't many services after hours.)

Was our decision to stay the right one? We wondered. The beach area was dark and silent. Few cars could be seen now.

We meditated and then, between text messages and phone calls from kashi, we retired to the upper loft bedroom (4.5 stories up) to wait.

Being 4 stories up seemed ok but would we be trapped?

Well. I fell asleep after 3am when the first of 5 waves were scheduled to hit. All remained quiet and all is well.

Our prayers go to those in Japan so seriously affected by this.

Blessings from sunny and calm Maui.
Hriman and Padma