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Connected Oceans and the Tsunami Watch

Tsunami watch sign by hansol on Flickr

Tsunami watch sign by hansol on Flickr

On September 29, 2009, the state of Hawaii was on tsunami watch. The waves — which hit Samoa, taking lives and destroying property — were caused by a 8.0 earthquake about 120 miles south of Samoa and American Samoa. First things first — the Red Cross of New Zealand has a special appeal for help to the tsunami victims; please give here.

It’s 2600 miles from Samoa to Hawaii. The mind boggles to think of that big sheet of water, shaken from the earth’s movement, affecting the Hawaiian islands so far away. It’s sort of terrifying to think of the hotel lined beaches, the crowds of blissful tourists going about their routine tanning, unaware of the folding and approaching ocean. It’s terrifying to think of Hilo, on the south side of the Big Island — in 1960, an earthquake off the coast of South America caused a tsunami that destroyed the ramshackle little downtown. 1960 — there are still people alive who lived through the 1960 tsunami, how awful it must have been for them to hear the news.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo captures the stories of Hawaii’s tsunami survivors and educates visitors in tsunami safety. It’s a little place and it seems woefully underfunded given the important work they do. If you want to freak yourself out, you can click through the center’s site to the tsunami zone map for Waikiki and consider how likely it is that your Oahu hotel is right in the heart of that zone. To understand what a tsunami is, exactly, read this description.

A tsunami watch is just that — a watch — so if you find yourself on Hawaii’s beaches and learn that a watch is in place, there’s no need to panic. Do stay informed. This particular watch was canceled, meaning there’s no risk the islands will be hit, but according to this  Star Bulletin article, safety minded officials are saying beach goers should stay out of the water.

Because of possible strong currents and unusual wave action, state and county officials will be going to beaches to warn swimmers to stay out of the water between 12:30 p.m. and 7;30 p.m. Civil defense officials reversed an initial decision to close beach parks this afternoon and evening.

“We are asking for the kokua of all of our residents and visitors to keep out of the water and away from the beaches and river mouths,” Mayor Mufi Hannemann said. “These precautionary measures are being implemented to keep everyone safe.”

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