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Tsunami: On the ground in Hilo

Motorists rushed to gas pumps Saturday morning (Feb. 27) in Hilo to fill up and get out of town before roads were closed. Some gas stations had closed early, which meant the few stations left open had lines of vehicles snaked out of driveways onto the streets. People seemed patient, waited their turn and headed for higher ground.
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Waters churn on the ocean side of the Hilo Bay breakwater as waters recede with currents caused by the 8.8M Chilean earthquake.

Photography and story by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft orbits over Hilo during the tsunami warning.

Motorists rushed to gas pumps Saturday morning (Feb. 27) in Hilo to fill up and get out of town before roads were closed. Some gas stations had closed early, which meant the few stations left open had lines of vehicles snaked out of driveways onto the streets. People seemed patient, waited their turn and headed for higher ground.

The rest of downtown Hilo was empty with little to no traffic as the morning wore on. A couple bicycle riders peddled the wrong way down the center of Kilauea Avenue near KTA as they took advantage of the empty streets.

County crews from various departments including police, public works, parks and recreation manned intersections ready to shut them down with barricades and flags. Every intersection along Kalanianaole Avenue was manned by police.

So many officers that it was surprising to see just how many police are on the force when you call all of them and put them to work at the same time.

Spectators lined the top of a pick-up with planks to create a viewing deck for front row seats of the tsunami action.

Spectators started to jam into the Wainaku scenic lookout for an overview of Hilo Bay hours before the first wave was to hit. Police ended up clearing the crowd out of the parking lot as they made way for officers and fire crews to move in and out without dodging the puzzle pieces of parked cars earlier.

A few spectators relocated to the highway shoulder above the lookout to retain their front row seats on the tsunami. Others walked back down to the lookout near 11 a.m.

As the time reached 11:05 a.m, the projected time of the first tsunami strike, all eyes scanned Hilo Bay for any sign of a wave, receding water or other disturbances.

What they saw was a half-dozen helicopters buzzing over the bay, a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft flying overhead, a dozen or so sailboats in open water and a pair of humpback whales splashing around.

The Fire Department's Chopper One flies near the breakwater in Hilo Bay.

At 11:30 a.m. water started surging near the breakwater, churning up the brown bottom staining the blue ocean. The water in Hilo Bay appeard to be receding as people pointed to surface currents moving out of the bay.

Then everyone waited for a wave, a hint of a wave, a surge of water, but from the vantage point on the north end of Hilo Bay it was difficult to see much except a bouy that had moved out with the receding water was now moving in.

There were a few times when a surge could be seen far on the opposite side of the bay near the mouth of Wailoa River and another time as the water in the bay appeared to rise up touching the base of the point light at Wailuku River.

People appeared both relieved that there was no destruction, but also a little disappointed that they didn’t see much at all.

Water churns at the mouth of the Wailoa River Bridge near Suisan (red roof on left) at 12:04 p.m. Photography courtesy of William Ing/Hawaii Tribune-Herald

On the ground at the opposite side of Hilo Bay the close-up scene was a bit different. The energy of the ocean surge from the tsunami was funneled into Wailuku and Wailoa Rivers. Wailuku looked familiar with big choppy waves bouncing under the singing bridge upstream as it does anytime there’s big surf.

At Wailoa River, the water was pushing inland with standing waves coursing on the river in Wailoa State Park pulling mounds of grass and debris from the shoreline.

When the ocean waters receded thick mats of grass caught onto mooring bouys near the boat dock as large tree branches and other debris ran back and forth from the ocean to the park as the surges came in and out over and over again.

Debris float up and downstream in Wailoa River as the tsunami surge pushed in and out of Hilo Bay.

A boat near the dock strained at a line tied to a cleat as the vessel was pushed up river by the surge in and rose up as water washed over the dock, then it would lower with the water level and pull towards the ocean by receding waters. The river water continued to surge even after the all clear was given and the tsunami warning was cancelled.

People came down to the dock to watch the surge, take photos and videotape a fraction of what the power of the ocean can do.

A spiral of brown silt is pulled from Wailoa River by the receding tsunami surge into Hilo bay. Photography courtesy of William Ing/Hawaii Tribune-Herald

3 Responses to “Tsunami: On the ground in Hilo”

  1. Amanda says:

    You know I have never been to Hawaii but it is part of this great country I live in. When I heard of the earthquake and the tsunami my heart went out to all the people who were on Hawaii. I watched the live news feed with anxiety for two hours. I wanted everyone and any one to know that I was literally on my knees praying to the God of the Bible in the name of Jesus that the waters would be silenced and the people’s lives on Hawaii would be spared. I believe that God, who is the only one to make the waters obey His command, answered my prayer today. I praise God for His mercy and kindness! Jesus Christ is Lord and the Savior of the world.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Well, all of your prayers and ours were answered today. As we spent the morning and part of the afternoon as refugees in our good friends home, we had our eyes glued to the TV screen which showed the camera view of Hilo Bay. We saw the receding of the waters and we saw the rushing of the waters back into the inlet, witnessed it as but a whimper as God tamed the waters just like Jesus did when his disciples awakened him afraid of the storm. Jesus calmed the storm with his powerful words. The glory of the Lord shone today, and I hope and pray that a lot of people realize that today.

    Because back in l960, when Chile’s land shook, the waves came and swept over Hilo destroying lots of land and lives. Today, it is surmised that because the epicenter was 22 miles deep into the ocean, the shock waves were muted. Well, that is a good scientific explanation. But I know the Lord’s power is mighty and can heal the sick, give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, raise the dead and yes even calm a tsunami. So praise His mighty Name, all ye saints and a good Amen and amen!

    Thank you all for loving us and praying for us.

  3. No Sympathy says:

    It was more likely physics, rather than God, that determined the outcome of this tsunami. Prayer does not affect how events like these unfold, nor is it a good idea to ‘wait for instructions from God’ before evacuating. God does not provide a tsunami warning system- science does.

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Oct 31, 2014 / 10:49 am

 

 

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