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October 16, 2006

Shake, rattle and roll

It was quite a wake up Sunday morning as my bed was shaking like a frat house bed on homecoming night. Hawaii had experienced its hardest earthquake in 20 years and it showed. The islands experience thousands of earthquakes a year but many of them aren’t even noticeable except by seismographs. This is only the second earthquake I have felt (that I can remember, that is. As a child living in CA my mother tells me we had them all the time), the last one was when I was in Guam.

The 6.6 magnitude earthquake sent our son running into our bedroom with eyes as wide as saucers. My wife grabbed him and I rolled over our 3 month old daughter who was in bed with us. The whole ordeal lasted about 25 seconds. I thought it was fun and didn’t panic; my wife, a California resident for most of her life, dismissed it as if the quarter had just run out of the vibrating bed in a cheap motel.

I got up and surveyed my living room and the only proof of a shakedown was a cigar tube that had rolled onto the floor from my computer desk. I had enough time to look off my lanai and see people from the surrounding apartment buildings standing in the rain, talking on their cell phones and swimming in the complex pool. Our fire alarm went off, and feeling it was set off in panic, perhaps form our 5-points-away-from-being-legally-retarded resident manager, I went out into the darkened hallway only to see a few scared people fleeing their apartments and running down the stairwell. I thought, "You’ve got to be kidding me."

I went back to my apartment and shortly thereafter the fire alarm secured and then the power went out. I thought it was odd that the power went out so long after the quake. Listening to our radio we heard the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) rep try to backpedal his way out of explaining why. I think someone just panicked and tripped off the 15-story generators. It would be in keeping with the inadequate emergency responses this state has towards natural emergencies. Remember the 43 days of rain we got earlier this year? Out dated sewage lines were bursting all over the island.

This state just doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy when it comes to big emergencies, especially when little things like trucks running into overpasses shut down the state highways for hours on end. The residents are ill prepared for these things too. Perhaps it is because the island mentality precludes any sense of instinct or spatial reasoning; perhaps they are just that dumb. People called the radio station wondering where they can get something to eat, business were calling in plugging their wares and one guy called in to plug his huli-huli chicken stand which was later shut down by the police because of traffic concerns. So after a major event like this, these people are worried about her stomachs? I do have to give credit to the radio show hosts who came into work to keep everyone informed of the goings-ons. One was making coffee and the other was on the golf course lining up a putt. I don’t normally listen to Perry and Price but yesterday I had no choice.

I finally had to stop listening to the radio because I was getting madder as the morning progresses- someone called in and actually praised God for the earthquake, giving Him all the glory and honor. Because God has nothing better to do than send a 6.5 earthquake centered 9 miles NNW of Hilo. Surprisingly, we didn’t get our first Civil Emergency message until 10:00- 3 hours after the earthquake. Yep, those Civil Defense guys are all over that. It took them that long to get a message out to only ONE radio station that was working. One. There were people sitting in their cars listening to the radio because they didn’t have a battery powered one in their house. This island has a hurricane season, which we have just entered, and these people aren’t even prepared for that.

We had water in my building until 1:00 p.m. and then the reservoir went dry. Power was restored to some parts of the island at about 2:00 p.m. and I had water again at 4:00. We filled up as many containers as we could so we had enough to last for a few days but I will go restock our bottled water supply to have more on hand. In fact, I am going to restock all my camping gear.

I was taken back when a Vietnamese caller asked if he could give an update to all the Vietnamese people who are listen to the station. After his blurb I wondered why someone who didn’t know English would be listening to the radio anyway. After that a Filipino, Japanese, Spanish, and Korean person called in to do the same. For those people who are products of the Hawaiian school system, a local called in and gave a translation in pidgin. One of the morning show hosts made a comment that the Emergency Broadcast System should put out the 3 hour late information in different languages because of the diversity here in Hawaii. What? There is a lot of tasty diversity here- Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and the locals who speak in pidgin- and the Civil Defense Service is supposed to hire translators for each of these languages? Perhaps now would be a great time to learn just a little bit of English so you can get information that will, oh, I don’t know, keep you alive in case of an emergency?

On the bright side, the National Guard was already setup this weekend for their drill weekend. If they were needed it would have been a quick deployment. Although I cna't imagine the chaos and pandemonium had this earthquake happened at 7:09 a.m. on a Monday morning. There is no doubt doubt I would have been stuck in our elevator on my way to work.

At about 3 a.m. 95% of the island had power and the ordeal came to an end. Besides the discomfort of no power for 17 ½ hours, (NYC residents are probably laughing at this outage) my biggest complaint was that Starbucks had to milk this morning for my venti vanilla latte. They had soy but I kindly refused- that being the absolute worst that could happen in this "disaster"- having to drink a soy latte. Luckily, the Golden Arches, as usual, were on the ball and to celebrate the survival of Shakedown ’06 I had a number 1 with my large coffee. Reflecting on the last 24 hours I have come up with a lesson learned list.

1. People in Hawaii are retarded. Stay off the phones, stay off the roads. That was the message from the Civil Service. People were calling in with less than funny anecdotes, car accidents, and birthday party cancellations. The cell towers operate on backup battery power and every unneeded phone call drains that power so that when a real emergency comes up it can’t get through because of high call volume. A lady called in and said she was on the Waianae coast to see if the tsunami was going to hit. Yes, she was on the beach after an earthquake to see the tsunami roll in. There are several parts to that sentence that reveal a cosmic disregard for Mother Nature and common sense, and if I have to explain it to you then you need to spend two hours in a garage with your car engine running. This jackass was on the wrong side of the island to see the tsunami anyway.

2. Hawaii cannot cope with an emergency in a reliable amount of time. Every time something happens this place acts like it is the first time it has ever happened in the history of the world. A 6.5 quake rendered the airports, roads, and businesses useless. People in CA are laughing at us. HECO uses 3 15-story generators to proved power but when they tripped offline the smaller generators then tripped offline to prevent an overload. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? When something ridiculous happens on the island I am reminded of a comment a local made in a Hawaii Pacific University class- “Don’t bring your mainland ways here!” What ‘ways’ are those, my simple minded friend- electricity? power generation? power distribution? The things other states on the mainland have mastered through experience are dismissed as ‘mainland ways’, voodoo, Santa Ria, things that this state has to figure out on its own. We had one radio station running and didn’t get a Civil Defense update for 3 hours after the fact.

3. I need to keep my camping gear stocked. I had a grill and one propane mini-tank for our dinner last night- beans, broccoli and cheese, and some turkey Italian sausage. Not bad for a candle lit dinner with no power. This event has reinforced my preparedness initiative for the upcoming hurricane season. We were prepared but we weren’t over prepared.

4. Starbucks needs to have a way to preserve milk. Are we living in the stone ages? Unless you’re in the Middle East (the last bastion of the Dark Age mentality) there is no excuse to have your main source of making a latte tasty go bad. And what the heck is up with soy? Did an employee bring a few containers of soy in this morning or can soy survive unrefrigerated? Either way, it is an abomination.

I can’t wait until the next natural disaster to see which one of Hawaii’s disaster relief infrastructures collapses under the weight of the absence of those evil main land ways. These people act like they don't live less than 200 miles away from 2 of the most active volcanoes on the planet.


  1. There are just so many things to say in wonder. The infrastructure one sees on the Islands is really pretty fragile and in a way superficial - only surface-deep its Non-Island Style hasn't quite taken root...But maybe because you have to use DYNAMITE for construction, to get stuff buried and hardened. Instead the banalities of Multiculturalism and Diversity has rooted and flourished in the Tropical Paradise welfare state.
    Soy - bean-juice bleh! Surprised they don't yet sell a Poi flavored Vente-Chai Latte! We have a bar-b-que grill and a Coleman stove with 1-lb gas canisters as our earthquake backup - cook the contents of the fridge first, then the freezer as it goes... Condensed milk in a can for coffee.

  2. I live on the big island in the Kau district 80 miles from the epicenter. We shook a lot but didnt loose power. Over all the island suffered little damage with most of that to older structures.

    If it had been a 7.4 rather than a 6.7 we wouldnt have had power back for weeks and I doubt if I would have a house. So please having lived on Kauai during Iniki dont wish for another natural disaster.

  3. Thanks for chiming Billt. Thank God you guys are ok over there.

    It is amaziong to me that you did not lose power being so close to the epicenter and all of Oahu did being 154 miles away. Although last week HECO admitted the power shut down was caused by an employee deliberately shutting down the system- like he was supposed to. Yeah, right.

    I hope you did not misinterpret my post in that I wish for another natural disaster to hit us- that is far from the truth. I merely pointed out that it takes something of this magnitude (no pun intended) for officails to realize our infrastructure is subpar.