LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i was the first Hawaiian island the tsunami hit at around 3 a.m. Friday morning. While it wasn’t exactly a dud, the tsunami wasn’t nearly a threat to island residents compared to its devastating effects in Japan, where it swept everything in its path, including buildings.
But the near-hit again raised the continuous question: Are we prepared for a disaster?
“We are going to try our best to always be prepared, but we’re never going to be overly prepared,” Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said.
Kaua‘i had a few other tsunami scares over the years, including one in Feb. 2009. Carvalho said experience from past situations and continuing response training makes him confident in how the county Civil Defense team and other agencies handled the threat.
“I feel comfortable with everybody’s role and I think the relationship between all the different agencies … is what’s important,” he said. “We cannot just wait for these actions, we’ve always got to keep ourselves abreast, prepared.”
Carvalho said he was at his office at 8 p.m. on Thursday, looking at some budget work, when a phone call advised him of a possible tsunami on its way to Kaua‘i.
From then on the county Civil Defense, the communications team and other county agencies began to work together.
“We were able to assemble in a timely manner, and everybody knew pretty much their roles and what to expect,” Carvalho said.
Helicopters with video feeds flew on each county in Hawai‘i, providing hourly updates to each other, he said.
“On the hour, we would keep everybody abreast of what was happening statewide,” said Carvalho, adding that every half hour he would meet with several county agencies to get updates of what was happening around the island.
“We had all the key people there. So to keep track of all the information that is flowing worked really well over this past evening,” he said.
But while sirens were blasting each hour, and the information highway was delivering updates by the minute, campers in remote parts of the island were in potential danger of being taken by surprise, because of lack of communication.
County spokeswoman Sarah Blane said the Civil Air Patrol, a U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, flew over Ni‘ihau, Kalalau Beach and Polihale State Park, giving audible warnings for people to evacuate low-lying areas.
“Kaua‘i’s Civil Defense Agency was also in contact with the Robinson Family last night to assist in evacuation and safety efforts for the island of Ni’ihau,” Blane said.
Several public schools and county facilities remained open to provide shelter to 2,300 people, mostly visitors.
On the Westside, about 150 people — residents and guests — were evacuated from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, said Tom Clements of PMRF Public Affairs Office.
“They either went to Kamokala Complex, near the base of the cliffs in Mana, or they went further up to Koke‘e,” he said.
Clements said that despite the entire PMRF being evacuated, security was provided at the facility.
“But I cannot give details as to how that was provided,” he said.
Carvalho said the tsunami could’ve been devastating for the island.
“My heart goes out to the families of Japan, to the people who lost their lives, what a tragedy,” he said. “Looking and hearing and seeing all of that destruction that could’ve happened here too, we’ve got to be really mindful and thankful as an island, as a community.”
Carvalho said all county agencies did a “wonderful job” keeping calm and knowing they had to make some though decisions.
“People sometimes feel uncomfortable, wanting to get back home, wanting to check their homes, and we’ve got to keep them in place, and sometimes that’s difficult for police officers,” he said.
Carvalho praised the community in “hanging in there, bearing with us,” while roads were closed.
“That’s all in trying to keep us safe and out of harms’ way,” Carvalho said.
At 7:28 a.m. on Friday, Carvalho issued a press release giving the “all clear,” as the tsunami warning had been downgraded to an advisory for Kaua‘i by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
All roads and highways were re-opened, but as a precautionary measure the county’s Ocean Safety Bureau advised all beachgoers to stay out of the ocean for the remainder of the day, due to the unpredictability of wave action.
Blane said lifeguards reported some dirtiness in the waters off of Salt Pond Beach Park, Lydgate Park and Kukui‘ula Harbor, but gave no reports of significant mud, sediment or debris.
The Kaua‘i Fire Department Helicopter, Air-1, was utilized Friday morning to conduct a coastline survey, but no significant damage was seen or reported, according to Blane.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or firstname.lastname@example.org.