Sunday, February 28, 2010

Musings: The Big Wait

What a treat to wake to a cool, drippy, windy, Sunday morning, especially one that doesn’t start with wailing sirens and howling dogs, as was the case in yesterday’s otherwise beautiful dawn, when the pastures were steaming mist and spider web pictures were illuminated by the first rays of the sun.

“What’s with the sirens?” I asked my neighbor Andy, who was standing in his driveway, and he told me of the tsunami warning.

“Let’s just hope all the action gets funneled toward Joe Brescia’s house,” he said.

“Well, we’re high, so at least we’ll be OK,” I said, to which he replied: “Yes, we won’t be killed outright. We’ll die slowly, from starvation.”

I wasn’t thinking that was too likely in my case, since I generally have a lot of food on hand, but I decided to cook some of it, stockpile water and also do some laundry while all the utilities were still on.

I heard Ron Wiley on KONG telling people we wouldn’t be losing water and electricity, and wondered how he was able to make such promises, until he finally clarified and said, unless the waves knock down the power poles or a break a water line.

Well, considering that last November’s big flood did break a pipe that deprived Hanalei of water and KIUC is located at Port Allen, on the southwest side where the wave was predicted to hit, and so many power lines run along the coast, I figured I wouldn’t take any chances. I went through Iniki, and know what it’s like to be without water for days, and electricity for two months.

Thus prepared, at least for a few days’ deprivation — though in the back of my mind I was uneasily aware that things could get unpleasant if it stretched much beyond that, especially since I was low on TP — I settled in for the big wait.

Like a lot of Kauai residents, I listened to KONG, and was struck by how many things are scheduled on a typical Saturday on this little island, and so had to be cancelled in the emergency. I planned to stay at home until I heard what happened at Hilo, and if it was big, then drive to an area nearby where I'd have a view of the coast.

I surfed the net, where overworked news sites kept going down for server maintenance, and I thought of how people around the world had found themselves a front row seat at a disaster via the Hilo Bay web cam. A Twitter alert warned folks to avoid one heavily-trafficked site, where spammers would be lurking.

“Is nature out of control?” read a silly headline on that linked to a story about how “seismic shockers” are apparently increasing along the “Ring of Fire” that includes Hawaii — at least in the past 15 years, which isn’t even a nanosecond in geologic time.

“I hope this was all a drill,” Mel Rapozo said in a call to KONG.

Of course, that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Throughout the state, from the guv on down, folks were patting themselves on the back at how well we responded.

Yes, but the general public had at least five hours’ notice, and some much more.

A friend in Hanalei said his cousin woke him at 3 a.m., and folks down there were shuttling their boats and heavy equipment and animals to higher ground well before the first siren sounded.

He had gone round to his neighbors, to notify them. Some had been up all night, alerted by the previous evening’s late news. Others were sleeping and oblivious, including one tourist, who asked, “A tsunami warning? What am I supposed to do?” before popping the cork on a bottle of champagne.

“Ask your hotelier or concierge,” Ron Wiley was advising visitors, which doesn’t work so well for folks staying in the vacation rentals, so many of which are in the inundation zone.

A woman who worked at the Marriott called in to KONG and angrily wanted to know why Kukui Grove was closed, saying they’d sent visitors up there to wait it out, thinking they’d have bathrooms, food and something to do to wile away the hours.

I don’t think visitors to Hawaii realize that in the event of a disaster, they just may have to fend for themselves, and not just for entertainment, but essentials like food and water.

That’s just one small puka in our disaster planning that this most recent warning revealed. The road closures and evacuations also underscored how many communities — and key infrastructure — are vulnerable to flooding.

How, exactly, would supplies be ferried up to the North Shore if massive flooding in Wailua, Kapaa, Kealia, closed the highway? Remember how long it took to reopen the road after Kaloko washed it out, and that was the only disaster in the state?

Where would all those residents and visitors from Poipu, Kapaa, Hanalei and Kekaha go if they couldn’t return to their homes for a couple of days, or more?

I don’t think residents of Kauai realize — even though Civil Defense Director Mark Marshall has repeatedly told them — that government does not have food, water, tents and other supplies warehoused for such circumstances. People are pretty much on their own.

And then, of course, there’s the underlying insecurity that comes from being almost totally dependent on imported food and fuel. It’s the big pink elephant in the room that we occasionally refer to, but pretty much ignore, except when tsunami warnings empty the supermarket shelves and lines form at the gas stations.

Yesterday’s drill made me aware of gaps in my own disaster response plan, and reminded me once again that self-sufficiency is the key to comfort and autonomy, if not outright survival. So I’ve started a list of things I need to get.

Because as a friend observed, when I mentioned that I had a lot of pots and jars filled with water sitting around the kitchen: “I wouldn’t dump that stuff just yet.”

As another friend, who lives in an inundation zone, noted: “I’m gonna sleep with one eye open tonight. We don’t know for sure if Chile’s stopped rocking and rolling.”

“Look at how many watches we’ve had in the last few years,” said another friend. “Sooner or later, we’re gonna get it. And next time, there may not be any warning.”

Tis true. Even though yesterday's warning was cancelled, we're still very much doing the big wait.


Anonymous said...

Ya, a good smack along the Wainiha Coast would clean up those vacation rentals, the locals and tourists, take out all those old wooden houses on post and piers and flood the taro field with salt water.

What are you guys thinking wishing for a selective strike by nature. You loose credibility by the hour.

Only the newer stronger concrete structures built to withstand an inundation would be left to loot and squat within.

Anonymous said...

Superferry, my dear.

Re: "How, exactly, would supplies be ferried up to the North Shore if massive flooding in Wailua, Kapaa, Kealia, closed the highway? Remember how long it took to reopen the road after Kaloko washed it out, and that was the only disaster in the state?"

Dawson said...

"Superferry, my dear."
- Anonymous

One good quote deserves another...

"More than 3,000 oil tankers proudly ride the world's seas. These giant tankers, even the biggest, take advantage of Newfoundland's deep-water ports and refineries. Oil and Newfoundland go together like ham and eggs, and like ham and eggs they'll nourish us all in the coming years. Let's all hang a picture of an oil tanker on our wall."
- Annie Proulx
The Shipping News