Dodging a tsunami in Hawaii — again

What do you mean, everything will probably be alright,” Kari snapped at the person on the other end of the line.

Kari never snaps at anyone on the phone, so that got my attention.

We’d just come back from a day of touring Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island, a potent reminder of the forces of nature that control us.

She looked at me and mouthed the words: tsunami.

Turns out it was a courtesy call from the owner of our vacation rental — a rental that happened to be located a block from the beach.

Two hours from now, the forecasters warned, we could be underwater.

Or not.

I wish I could say this was our first tsunami evacuation. It wasn’t.

Two years ago, my son and I survived another one in Maui after the Japanese earthquake.

The threat of a monster wave hitting you is disconcerting, but when it happens at night, it’s worse. In the darkness, you can’t be sure of exactly what you’re seeing. Is that just a little rain, or is the road about to flood?

We packed our belongings in record time and sped into town, idled in a long line at the gas station to fill the tank on our rental and then waited for the wave.

The mood in Keaau was festive. Several Halloween parties were raging, and the costumed locals seemed oblivious of the threat, despite the intermittent sirens.

“I could never live here,” my oldest son, Aren told me. “Tsunamis are too scary.”

Scarier than the hurricanes that hammer us in Florida every summer? Maybe in a different way.

The evacuation order was lifted around 1:30 a.m., and we returned to our house. Next time we’re here, Aren wants to stay on the mountain.

“But you know,” I told him. “There’s a volcano there.”

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • whateverak

    I go to Maui two or three times a year and I have decided that the threat of a tsunami is a good argument against buying the tank of gas from the rental car company. I wouldn’t want to be left running on fumes my last night on the island and needing to get gas in order to make it through the night.

  • bodega3

    Chris, you now have to let everyone know when you are going back to Hawaii for the next trip so we don’t make plans for the same time and experience tsunami warning #3!

  • Tab Stone

    2 visits. 2 tsunami warnings. Has the State of Hawaii asked you not to come back?

  • Christopher Elliott

    Not yet. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I’ll let you know the next time I visit.

  • D3343

    I’ve also been to Maui twice, and there’s been a tsunami both times. The first was the horrible 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The second one was in Feb 2010, when there were sirens and road closures and crowds at the Safeway, but water only rose a few inches.

  • bodega3

    If you visit the museum in Hilo, my Dad donated several photos from the devastating tsunami that hit that side of the island in 1946.

  • bodega3

    Maui hardly had any issue in 2010 but the Big Island did and the wonderful Kona Village on the western side closed due to it. Oahu did on the Waikiki side at the harbour.

  • Extramail

    Can’t wait to see what stories come out of hurricane Sandy’s adventure on folks’ travel experiences.

  • LadySiren

    C’mon, Chris – it’s just a little tsunami.

    My mom lived not too far from Keaau; she and her friends used to go down to the beach and watch for them to arrive. The first time they had a warning after moving back to the islands, I called her in a panic. I could actually hear the civil defense sirens in the background. My mom just laughed and told me her picnic lunch was already packed so they could go watch for the killer wave. I think maybe she thought Kanaloa or Pele would protect her. :)

  • bodega3

    She needs to go to the museum in Hilo and see the photos of the 1946 tsunami. People then did the same thing as your mom and died because of it. Many under estimate the power of mother nature!

  • LadySiren

    Um, my mom passed awhile back. Her philosophy as a native Hawaiian was if the wave comes, it comes…where are you gonna go? She was copacetic about it. :)

  • Keith Higa

    Of course, we’re always glad to have a mover and shaker like you in the islands, Chris. Apparently you generate a lot of excitement when you come. :)