LIHU‘E — Thousands of Kaua‘i residents and visitors exhaled a collective sigh of relief Friday morning after receiving the “all clear.”
It was a long, sleepless night for many who stayed up tracking a deadly tsunami’s progress across the Pacific Ocean. Roughly 2,300 people — mostly visitors — took advantage of holding areas at 12 public schools and three neighborhood centers around the island in response to the tsunami warning, county officials said.
An 8.9-magnitude earthquake 80 miles off the eastern coast of Japan Thursday evening triggered a tsunami warning for virtually the entire Pacific Ocean, including 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 Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially forecast a 6-foot wave rolling into Kaua‘i with the potential to cause serious devastation to coastal areas. When it arrived in its weakened state just after 3 a.m., a modest bump in sea levels was recorded.
Reports of 6- to 8-foot waves with 75- to 80-foot run-up were received from Hanalei, county officials said. 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.
The most severe damage in the Isles was reported at boat harbors on Maui and Big Island.
Shortly after 6 p.m. Friday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s office released a statement that the governor signed a State of Disaster Proclomation earlier in the day “after learning of millions of dollars in damages as a result of the tsunami that swept through the islands earlier this morning. The proclomation is the first step in the process of seeking and receiving federal funds to recover and rebuild.”
The Associated Press reported that on the western shore just off Kailua Kona, firefighters spotted a floating home in Kealakekua Bay and seven others damaged by at least one large wave, said Quince Mento with the Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Agency. Buildings 11 miles north in Kailua Kona on the Big Island also suffered extensive damage.
Mento said the bay is not very populated and he didn’t know the exact size of the single-family structure — nor if it was still floating in the bay or had gone to sea.
About 200 boats were damaged at Keehi Small Boat Harbor near Small Island, according to the Associated Press, many having collided into one another.
The U.S. Coast Guard reported Friday morning that Kaua‘i fared the best among the Hawaiian islands.
While no injuries or deaths were reported in the state, during evaluations of the archipelago, Coast Guard personnel did find varying levels of damage.
Personnel checked Port Allen Harbor, Nawiliwili Harbor, O‘ahu’s Kelaloa Barbers Point, and Honolulu Harbor for general safety, depth, subsiding surge, lack of debris and aids to navigation, a Coast Guard news release states. They are now open to maritime traffic.
Significant trash and debris was found in marinas on Kaua‘i, according to the Coast Guard, but no pollution was reported.
Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. issued the “all clear” for the county at 7:28 a.m. Friday when the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center downgraded the tsunami from a warning to an advisory.
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,” officials said in a news release.
The tsunami warning center ended its advisory for Hawai‘i at 11:26 a.m., urging continued caution among boaters and swimmers due to persisting smaller sea level changes and unusual currents.
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. When the tsunami warning became an advisory, police reopened roads.
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.
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, county officials said.
Public and private schools were closed Friday, including Kaua‘i Community College.
The Lihu‘e Airport had some cancellations in the morning due to the warning, an airport representative said, but it was open Friday.
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 returned to Nawiliwili later Friday, and is expected to head to Honolulu today. The next cruise will sail as scheduled, according to a statement from NCL.
Other damage around the state as reported by the Coast Guard include:
• Significant damages reported at Ke‘ehi Lagoon with approximately 200 vessels impacted. Docks broke free from moorings with multiple boats still attached. Multiple vessels were seen floating free with multiple collisions occurring. One sailing vessel has collided with the Sand Island Bridge. Thelagoon remains hazardous with continual tidal surges and shallow water levels.
• Hale‘iwa Harbor piers destroyed with no vessels damaged.
• Coast Guard and good Samaritans continue to assist numerous recreational vessels disabled and adrift off O‘ahu.
• Ma‘alaea Harbor continues to show signs of surge. No pollution reported. Two vessels sunken in harbor with one vessel overturned.
• Reports of damage and debris scattered around port.
• Civil Air Patrol currently conducting aerial assessment.
• The Garden Island staff writers Léo Azambuja, Vanessa Van Voorhis, Jessica Musicar and Dennis Fujimoto, as well as The Associated Press, contributed to this report.