The Ring of Fire and What I Found There

"We interrupt your Netflix movie to bring you..."

“We interrupt your Netflix movie to bring you…”

I was sitting on the couch with the AppleTV remote in my hand flipping through what seemed to be an endless list of crappy horror films on Netflix. As much as I love that genre, finding a good one was proving difficult. Puppy was curled up beside me. Christine, who didn’t care for scary movies, was kind enough to let me use the “big TV” as she sat in the recliner with her headphones on. She was watching one of her touch-feely girlie movies on her iPad. It was well after 8 o’clock at night but still very warm. We were lucky, though. The Trade Winds were blowing. The breeze that swept across the top of Koko Crater seemed to cascade down the volcano, across our lanai, and funnel right into the living room window behind me. I took a deep breath. For the first time that week, I felt at peace.

Flip, flip, flip. Does Netflix have any good horror films? Before I had the chance to answer, I heard a strange wailing drift in through the window behind me. I knew it wasn’t the Hawaii Kai fire station because we had heard them many times in the past. Besides, fire trucks and ambulances made a very distinct noise. No, this was very something different.

What the heck is that? I thought.

Within a moment or two I realized what it was. My stomach dropped. I extracted myself away from a sleeping Milkbone and pulled back Christine’s headphones. “Is that the tsunami warning siren?”

Her eyes got as big as saucers.

“Yes!” she said. “You couldn’t tell that was the alarm?”

“Uh, no.” I replied sheepishly. “I’ve always heard it through the glass in my office.” The tsunami warning sirens, scattered throughout the Hawaiian Islands, were tested on the first business day of the month. Hearing the test on the ninth floor was completely different than hearing it in person.

We scrambled. I jumped on my official government issued cellular device (a.k.a. my cell phone) and saw I had two missed messages. As the siren continued to haunt my ears, I dialed the Coast Guard District Fourteen Command Center. The tsunami alarm was real.


A 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. It generated a potentially life threatening tidal wave that was heading right for O`ahu. Early news reports said that the wave was large: nearly 6-feet. A wave that size would significantly impact the low-lying land around the island. While our home in Hawaii Kai was above the predicted tsunami flood zone, it wasn’t by much. A wave larger than 6-feet could easily have made our driveway ocean front property. We had to evacuate.

But… neither one of us was prepared for evacuation. Christine, keeping her wits, grabbed two large green flight bags and began to load them with supplies. She included changes of clothes, potato chips, granola bars, and, surprisingly, about 15 DVDs.

Christine packing her valuables: the DVD collection

Christine packing her valuables: the DVD collection

“What’s up with all these movies?” I asked.

“Well, if we are going to be stranded somewhere, I have to have something to watch!”

That made sense.

Christine was performing remarkably well in the face of Armageddon. I, however, slipped into panic mode. It wasn’t the tsunami; it was my stupid cell phone. My mind went blank and I couldn’t figure out how to access phone numbers from the texting option. Worse yet, I found out that all my contacts were gone.


Within the first fifteen minutes we had much of what we needed packed and ready to go. We had two 24-packs of bottled water, dog food, an air mattress, our two flight bags full of clothing (and DVDs), and my backpack filled with electronics, cameras, and hard drives. Always thinking, Christine was sure to pack our marriage photo album, scrapbook, and a few pictures of her parents. The rest of our household items would need to remain. We’d fish them out later if we had to.

Milkbone, in the meantime, sat on the couch, his furry head covered with a plastic cone. Puppy had a habit of licking his paws raw. Oddly, he didn’t seem very panicked.

With the truck loaded, Christine and I moved our attention to our computers. We updating folks we knew using Facebook. She was conversing with a few of the spouses on the island while I posted updates for our East Coast friends. All the while we had kept the television tuned to the news.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center indicated that the first of many waves would strike the eastern part of O`ahu at about 10:30 p.m. As we neared that time, our immediate question was whether or not we should evacuate. As I mentioned, Hawaii Kai was outside the tsunami zone but still at risk. If anything, a major flood would virtually cut us off from the rest of the island. The water could easily glide over the low beaches at Maunalua Bay and wash across our only exit highway: Kalaniana`ole.

Tsunami Evacuation Zone from The City and County of Honolulu Department of Emergency Management

Tsunami Evacuation Zone from The City and County of Honolulu Department of Emergency Management

Regardless of the potential for catastrophe, I never got the feeling that the tsunami would be as bad as predicted. We accepted the risk and remained in place.

At 10:30 p.m. the first wave struck. It was 17-inches high. The news reporters warned that the first few waves were typically small. We remained glued to the television for the next few hours as wave after wave struck the island. None exceeded that original 17-inch wave.

Although Armageddon never happened, it could have. What Christine and I found truly remarkable were all the videos on the news showing people standing at the end of the pier at Waikiki with cameras in their hands. I guess they wanted the best possible shot before being swept into the Pacific.

Around midnight we decided to unload most of our valuable items from the back of the car, set up our blankets on the couch, and continue to watch coverage. At 2:30 a.m., after an exhausting and rather stressful day, we turned off the television. The Great British Columbia Tsunami of 2012 was over. It was time to get some shuteye.



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