Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami Warning!

Last night the popcorn was popped, we were hunting for our DVD of "The Incredibles," and then I get a call from my grandma in Los Angeles.

Massive earthquake in Japan, she said. Terrible tsunami. Keep alert.

When I moved to Hawaii seven months ago, I noticed my house lay smack in the middle of a tsunami evacuation zone. So one of my first projects in our new home was to make evacuation kits. Each family member had a backpack with granola bars, peanut butter and crackers, fruit cups, water bottles, pajamas and a change of clothes. My pack had a few extras, like bug repellent, sunscreen, and toothpaste. I also had a plastic bucket with a lid that has soap, matches, toilet paper, a radio, some mylar blankets and ponchos, and various other things you want in an emergency, like a deck of Uno cards. It was such a relief to know those packs were standing by in the cupboard in case we had to go.

As I walked around the house, turning on the radio and finding the big flashlight, the watch became a warning. And then the sirens went off.

My eight-year-old burst into tears. I hugged him and told him the wave was still six hours away, and we had plenty of time to get to a safe place.

"But all our stuff!" he cried.

"That doesn't matter," I told him. "We'll be fine without it. I just want all of you to be safe."

I told the children to go find a few things they really wanted to take. Each took the special quilt their grandmother had made for them. The little ones came with handfuls of favorite toys. My eleven-year-old brought a wad of neckties out to the car. As I loaded up the evacuation kits the block captain came to my door to tell me where to go. There was a large ranch nearby where we could drive up into the hills and camp for the night. But before I had stowed the tent in our car, we got a call from a friend, inviting us to spend the night with them in their house on high ground.

That was a great idea.

Somehow we wiggled into the car among all the stuff we'd salvaged. Boxes of important documents, laptop computers, a couple of harps, the nice ukulele, and all the fresh bread I could find in the house. I didn't know what I would be coming back to in the morning. At that point, all I knew was that a ten foot wave had crushed houses and tossed cars in Japan. I imagined that in the morning the narrow strip of highway that connects our little country town to the rest of civilization might be washed out. No electricity, no water, my house wet with ocean sludge three feet up the walls. I said goodbye to life as I knew it and squeezed into the car.

A line of cars backed up along the highway, all trying to get to the gas station. At first I thought we'd be stuck in traffic for hours, but then I saw that they were all waiting in line off to the side of the road. We edged by the back end of the line, then zipped down to the next town. As we drove I thought of other things I would be sad to lose. The journals I'd kept for each child since they were a baby. My bin full of scrapbook material I hadn't had time to put together yet. Still, my family was safe, and there was NO WAY I would be sending my husband back for another load.

After we unloaded at our friends' house and had the children settled for the night, I stayed up hour after hour watching the news. Our friends went to bed, my husband dozed in a chair, but I did not want to miss a single minute. The news showed people standing in line at convenience stores, cars waiting at gas stations, and people parked along the Pali highway that runs through the mountains above Honolulu. They interviewed scientists and city officials. And they showed what had happened in Japan. A wave of mud rolled over fields, canals, roads, coming on as if it would never stop, never slow down. Flaming debris floated on the top, an insane deluge of fire and water. My eyes burned with tears.

The hours dragged on, but when the wave finally reached us in Hawaii it seemed like it had all come on so fast. Too fast. The grainy video feed from Waikiki beach showed the waves come higher, then higher, swallowing all the sand, and then...

The water went back out. Didn't even get the road wet.

What a relief!

Tsunami Evacuation Aftermath
After that I went to bed. I missed seeing the coral reefs exposed when the wave went down. I missed seeing beach-side parking lots flood on the North Shore. When the sun came up and the all-clear went out we put our things back in the car and drove home.

All day I've been grateful for the smallest things. A warm shower, all my clothes still dry and clean, my refrigerator untouched by sea-water and full of food. Most of all, my husband and dear children who stayed so calm and brave through the whole thing, and normal every-day life gone back to normal.

Aloha and thank you for all your thoughts and prayers!

-Rebecca J. Carlson


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I was so worried - that video of the water coming ashore in HI kinda freaked me out! I'm so, so glad you are safe and home! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling us your story. It shows really how scarry it is to be in a situation like this. Afterwards we always think, oh what a big fuss they made over nothing, but that's not true. You just don't know what will happen until it actually does. Thank God for early warning systems.
Glad you guys are ok and you are a great storyteller!

Heike said...

Anonymous is Heike, I accidentely hit the wrong one. LOL.

Rebecca J. Carlson said...

Thanks everyone! It was so nice to know you were thinking of us.

margaretlovessharks said...

Sister Carlson thank you soooo much for posting this. When I found out about the Tsunami I was so worried I couldn't go to school and I imediately sent a message to Amber via Facebook. I am so glad all of you are safe. I saw the footage and started balling. I am so relieved.

Jonene Ficklin said...

Rebecca, I'm so glad you and your family are safe! What a crazy, crazy day. I can only imagine what everyone was feeling as those hours passed. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Shallee said...

So glad to hear you are okay. All this disaster is horrifying, and I'm glad to know you and your family and safe and at home.

Tanya Robinson said...

I enjoyed reading your account of the Carlson family tsunami adventure! I'm so glad your home was spared, along with those of all your neighbors and island-mates.

Rebecca J. Carlson said...

I still can't believe, with all the destruction in Japan, that our island got off so easy.

I so appreciate the love and concern we feel from all of you.

LeishaMaw said...

Sorry this is such a late comment, but I am so very glad you didn't get swamped or tugged out to sea. Hugs! said...

Just read this. It is neat to see your firsthand account.