LIHU‘E — Residents and visitors breathed a collective sigh of relief this morning after a long, sleepless night for many who tracked a deadly tsunami’s progress from Japan.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially forecast a 6-foot wave rolling into Kaua‘i with the potential to cause serious devastation to coastal areas, but when it hit here just after 3 a.m. only a slight rise in sea level was recorded.
Reports of 6- to 8-foot waves with 75- to 80-foot run-up were received from Hanalei, county officials said in a news release. Port Allen reported waves coming in 2 feet above the pier. Unusual wave activity was also reported at Keoneloa Bay in Po‘ipu and at Nawiliwili Harbor.
Public works road crews cleared sand that had apparently been washed across Lawa‘i Road in the vicinity of the Lawa‘i Beach Resort, county officials said.
An 8.9-magnitude earthquake 80 miles off the eastern coast of Japan triggered the tsunami warning for Hawai‘i and the west coast of the Mainland. The waves that washed ashore in Japan have reportedly killed hundreds of people and destroyed massive areas in the northeastern part of the country.
The most severe damage in the Hawaiian Isles has been reported at boat harbors on Maui and Big Island. Elsewhere, damage has been negligible.
Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. issued the “all clear” for the county at 7:28 a.m. today when the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center downgraded the tsunami from a warning to an advisory.
“Tsunami waves have now crossed the State of Hawai‘i and have diminished to advisory levels,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center’s latest update states. “Sea level changes and strong currents may occur along all coasts that could be a hazard to swimmers and boaters as well as to persons near the shore at beaches and in harbors and marinas. The threat may continue for several hours.
“This advisory does not mean it is safe to return to evacuated areas. Decisions and instructions for returning to evacuated areas will be made and come from Hawaii state and county Civil Defense agencies.”
As a precautionary measure, the county’s Ocean Safety Bureau is advising all beachgoers to stay out of the ocean for the remainder of the day “due to the unpredictability of wave action,” officials said in a news release.
Police have reopened all roads that were closed during the warning.
Schools are closed today, including Kaua‘i Community College.
The Lihu‘e Airport is open. There were some cancellations this morning due to the warning, an airport representative said.
Buses are running routes.
Norwegian Cruise Lines' "Pride of America" left Nawiliwili Harbor at around 1 a.m. due to the tsunami warning. The ship went out to sea where conditions are generally safer. The vessel is expected to return to Nawiliwili today, then head to Honolulu Saturday. The next cruise will sail as scheduled, according to a statement from NCL.
Roughly 2,300 people — mostly visitors — took advantage of holding areas at 12 public schools and three neighborhood centers around Kaua‘i early this morning in response to the tsunami warning, county officials said.
Coastal areas were evacuated following the issuance of the tsunami warning at approximately 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Coastal roads were closed by police shortly after 2 a.m. to prevent anyone from entering the inundation zone, county officials said.
The county’s Connect CTY emergency messaging system, county park rangers, the Civil Air Patrol, press releases and the county’s Facebook page were all used to notify residents and visitors of the possible tsunami. The Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau assisted in keeping visitor industry partners informed of evacuation notices, available holding areas and road closures.
Some holding sites, such as King Kaumuali‘i Elementary School in Hanama‘ulu, filled up by 1:50 a.m. People seeking a place to wait out the tsunami warning in central Kaua‘i were directed to Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi or Wilcox Elementary School in Lihu‘e.
Parking lots at Walmart and Kaua‘i Community College were filling up late last night as residents and visitors took refuge during the tsunami warning. Dozens of people were stretched out in grassy areas, trying to get some sleep, while others mingled in small groups. The scene at some places resembled tail-gating before a football game.