Well, who HASN’T heard about the great scare last Saturday, right? I’m just really glad that no one was hurt and that no damage was done. We are very fortunate to have evaded mother nature’s wrath.
My day started at 3:30am, when I got the call to mobilize. My area of duty was the Leeward coast–in particular, the evacuation of residents near and on the beaches. I got to Nanakuli High School before daybreak, and started to look around at the already growing crowd of evacuees. I spent a good amount of time there talking to people with Star-Bulletin reporter Rose Bernardo. The scene was relatively mellow and light-hearted, despite the gravity of the situation. Here’s a couple of frames from Nanakuli High:
Nanakuli resident Daniel Takutani stands with his belongings near a ticket booth at Nanakuli High School, the epicenter shelter for the Leeward coast, on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010 in Nanakuli on the Leeward coast of Oahu. Residents near the coast are urged to take refuge to higher ground. An 8.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Chile early Saturday, sending tsunami force waves surging across the Pacific. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Bulletin).
People were cooking breakfast on gas grills, playing ball–it was almost like an out-of-place tailgating party.
As the sun came up, I decided to detach from Rose and set off to find evacuees near the beaches, in particular the sizable homeless population.
Ben Cruz, left, and Sheila Gibson, both residents of "Guard Rails" on the beach, prepare to move to higher ground on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010 in Nanakuli on the Leeward coast of Oahu. An 8.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Chile early Saturday, sending tsunami force waves surging across the Pacific. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Bulletin).
The mood at the beach was day and night from Nanakuli High School. Most of the residents I talked with were reluctant to leave because of looters and thieves. Some, like a friendly, spunky woman named Kaiwi, who’d lived on the beach for over 10 years, said that her connection to the ocean was so powerful, that she would know exactly when and IF to get to higher ground.
Several hours passed, and I made my way over to Keaau Beach Park. I happened upon one of the last evacuation buses waiting to take the few remaining there.
Bus operator Keith Garlock stands by to take passengers to Nanakuli High School at Keeau Beach Park on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010 on the Leeward coast of Oahu. An 8.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Chile early Saturday, sending tsunami force waves surging across the Pacific. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Bulletin).
Underneath a well-worn tent, I saw a man in a wheelchair–sitting very relaxed. I came up and introduced myself to him, as one of the other residents told me that he was refusing to leave despite the impending danger. His name was Jonathan.
“I’m not going to lose what little I have already here by leaving,” he said, when I asked him why he didn’t want to go to higher ground. A few months before, when high winds battered the Leeward coast, Jonathan said that Keaau looked like a tornado ripped through there, and looters were picking up all they could from the residents’ ruined tents. With his tent gone, Jonathan had taken refuge underneath his once-beige couch, which had flipped over. His first wheelchair was even stolen. I talked with him some more, photographed him, and he laughed with me–a very jovial man. Then all of a sudden, Civil Defense came on the horn stating that the road will be closed at 10am.
This gave all of us little time. I asked Jonathan one more time if he would go for safety. Tears were beginning to well in my eyes as he rummaged through worn coolers near his once-beige couch, now stained brown from constant use and weather. “If this is the way I go, this is the way I go,” he said. “I not gonna lose what little I have already.”
Jonathan once used the couch behind him as shelter.
I had to go.
I shook his hand, fighting back tears, not knowing whether this man, who allowed me a small window into his life, would survive. “Be safe,” I told him. He said “Vaya con dios.” I hurried to my car, and took one last glance at him. He was smoking a cigarette. I couldn’t conjure up the nerve to take a picture.
I got back to Nanakuli High School and filed what I had. Now it was just a matter of waiting. Waiting for the danger. Waiting for the pandemonium. Waiting for what I hoped would not come. As 11am came around, I saw people taking refuge on rooftops.
I decided to walk down towards the ocean, and got to about 500 yards from the beach. It was 12noon, and the radio in my car was constantly talking about the boils and ebbs at Ala Moana Beach Park, but nothing yet on the Leeward side. I stared at the ocean, and out at sea. The feeling was surreal. An almost cloudless day. My thoughts drifted back to Jonathan. Then to a wall of water barreling towards me at hundreds of miles an hour. The constant seesaw of thoughts passed the time, as did Twitter (@jammaquino if you don’t already follow me). Before I knew it, the all clear was sounded. It was 1:40pm. We were spared.