Let me tell you about the time I left California to survive a 6.6 earthquake in Hawaii. Husband and I, we like to end our vacations with a bang!
The earthquake was nine miles off of the northwest side of the Big Island, and we were staying on the west side of, yes, the Big Island. We were nineteen miles from the epicenter. I suppose I could've gotten closer had I kayaked out into the ocean to, you know, really deepen my appreciation for life and everything dear and precious to me.
If you're a Mainlander, you wake up early in Hawaii. You wait for the sunrise. It's like waiting to open birthday presents. Is it time? Is it light enough to see the ocean yet? On Sunday morning, the day of the earthquake and the last day of our vacation, Husband and I had been lying in bed talking. We were reconnecting, actually, not talking about fluff, but about important stuff like, how to decompress better from work, staying positive, how much we loved each other. It was the only morning of our whole stay that I did not leave the room by 6:30 to be with the Ocean for a morning baptism. By 7:00, we were lying on our backs, thinking, almost back to full connection with each other.
For those of us that have been in a few earthquakes, there is very distinct wave of sound that is a precursor to any actual movement. It is a deep rumble in the foundation of a structure. It is an awakening of sorts that progresses to a higher-pitched creaking of walls and windows rattling. Barely any movement, only That Sound. When I heard it coming --you know exactly what it is when you hear it -- and when I felt the first small vibrations, I thought, "For real? An earthquake?" Then the movement climbed violently. The large, resort-style lamp on my night stand crashed to the tiled floor. Drinking glasses from the table flew off and shattered. Husband said he saw the room twist. I didn't see much because I go deep into my mind during times like this. I try to feel and hear how far the earth is going to take things. At the crescendo of the shaking when the king-sized bed was tossing around, an unfamiliar stream of thought seeped in: Something truly terrible could happen right now. This thought washes over dreadfully, minimizes you to one tiny mortal spec that has no control of anything; of your own life or of others. What could help you? Only instinct is left. Husband and I leapt up and we ran to the doorway of the sliding glass door. The shaking was slowing. We opened the door and looked outside. We put on flip flops and Husband grabbed his wallet and rental car keys and we jetted to the parking lot. I was dressed in a tank top and boxers. Our friends MattyP and Tee, who had come to vacation with us, arrived at our room right before we bolted through the sliding glass doors. In California, you're not supposed to go outside during an earthquake. On this flat side of Hawaii, it seemed like the thing to do.
An emergency siren was sounding and hotel guests flowed into the parking lot too, some in robes, some clutching children or an armful of possessions. I was happy not to have the girls with me. The worry to protect them and stay calm for them would have drained me completely. Everyone nervously chattered. And we waited. The sun was shining hard, but it was mild. We looked up at palm trees wondering how easily they could fall. The next earthquake was a 5.9 and it didn't build like the first. It jerked in one, terrible movement like someone was trying to pull the road from under us. The entire crowd lurched and everyone's face drained. I had just seen the pavement physically yank sideways. Husband reached for me and I looked around. It was the first time I was completely fearful because the collective look was one of not knowing what to do. It's how I imagine everyone looks before all disasters. This scared me. Finally, a staff member advised us to starting walking away from the water in case of a tsunami.
My husband is the type that watches every single Discovery show on tsunamis and other natural disasters. I know a tsunami was on his mind since this ordeal had begun but when he heard someone local actually speak the words, he said, "Let's go." The four of us jetted towards our Grand Marquis rental car. We weren't going to wait for further instruction. We were going to head to higher ground, near some locals. They'd know what to do.
The west side of the Big Island is a desert of barren charcoal-colored lava rocks. You see them for miles. The main road that runs north-south was littered with boulders and smaller rocks that had loosened in the shaking. Some locals parked and removed rocks themselves, while others directed traffic. The Ironman Triathlon is happening in this exact area next weekend and hardcore cyclists, who were probably in mid-training during the earthquake, precariously swerved around road debris with the string-thin tires of their highly specialized bikes. Their aerodynamic helmets shaped like teardrops bobbed and jerked back checking for cars. I'm sure they didn't train this hard and come this far to stop because of an earthquake no matter how large. We pressed north to Waimea until we got to a local breakfast spot where we had eaten a couple days before. This place serves troughfuls of food for about $1. Husband had eggs and a serving of hash browns as big as a sheet of paper. And he had fried Spam. This all came with a "side" of pancakes that were as large as the Grand Marquis' rims. Uh, I had a cup o' rice with catsup because this spot had not one fruit or vegetable on the premises. The power was out across the entire state of Hawaii and I happened to get the last half cup of coffee in the diner. So that was a blessing.
The locals next to us talked stories about the earthquakes they've felt over the years. The last one this big was in the early 80's which actually kick started the flow of Kilauea, the only active volcano of the islands. It still slowly flows to this day, growing the island inch by inch. I said maybe this earthquake will shut if back off. Some New Yorkers sitting next to us remarked, "Or maybe it will really blow its top now." Way to stay positive, NY'ers!
During breakfast, when MattyP and Tee were navigating cautiously through the light-less restroom, Husband looked over at me. He took my hand from across the linoleum table, pushing Costo-sized catsup and Tabasco and Aunt Jemima syrup aside. He kissed my hands and rubbed them against his eyes. We said nothing, tearing up a little. Nothing like a natural disaster to complete a reconnection.
Husband and MattyP spent the rest of the day figuring out with the airlines if we were going to make it home or not. Tee and I sat and looked at the ocean, calming our minds and soaking in what we could of paradise. The ocean was not as agitated as you would think. It was certainly not calm-before-the-tsunami-like either. It was like it was all a dream. At 5pm, a little earlier than usual, the sea turtles came ashore and rested their nerves too. They put themselves to bed among the white sand and dark lava rocks.
Our flight had been originally scheduled for 9:25pm and surprisingly we left on time, one of only four flights that got off that night. It was a rough flight, mad bumpy which sent us shaking flashbacks every few minutes. Husband said, and not quietly, "I survived an earthquake to die in the airplane. Great!" Way to stay up, NY'ers!
More Hawaii stories to come.