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