Sunday, February 28, 2010

Remembering the Hilo Tsunami of 1960

Mooheau Street ... Reduced to Rubble

Yesterday’s “Where is it?” tsunami warning reminded me of Hilo on May 23, 1960. A huge tidal wave – a 50-footer – came smashing into my hometown on the Big Island of Hawaii during the early morning hours . It rumbled through Hilo Bay, traveling all the way from Chile, grew to enormous proportions because of the bay's geology, and turned sleepy Hilo downtown into a bunch of twisted wreckage.

Most of the Kamehameha Avenue stores suffered some damage (the closer you got to Waianuenue Avenue, the lighter the damage), but the brunt of the devastation came from Mamo Street down to the Waialua River and Waiakea town.

Where once there was an uninterrupted line of stores, there now was nothing standing along Kamehameha Avenue. The Boy's Club was gone. The old Pick and Pay supermarket was gone. Mamo Theater was still there, but the Mooheau Theater was nowhere to be seen. The Hilo Theater was gutted (witnesses said the wave completely covered the 50-foot-tall theater).

Waiakea Town was gone. The new Cafe 100 was gone. Dozens of fishing sampans were gone. Hilo's only bowling alley was gone. Sun Sun Lau Chop Suey was gone. The Hobby House was gone. Moto's Inn was gone.

"The Wave," as it came to be known, rolled in while most of Hilo was asleep in darkness. Actually, I didn't even know we were expecting a tidal wave. I woke up that morning to a voice saying, "Katie died." That was Dad. He had just come back from the hospital where he and other doctors had spent hours tending to the injured. In all, 61 people died that night, most of them because they didn't heed the warnings, and either stayed in their waterfront homes, or went downtown to watch the wave come in.

Katie was a waitress at Standard Drug. Wonderful Irish lady who had married a local Japanese. Everyone knew her, and she knew everyone. She died that morning despite Dad's attempts to save her life.

Through my drowsiness, I pieced together fragments of the story. Mom notice I had wakened, and filled me in on what had gone on in the wee hours of the morning. It was quite dreadful.

Of course, we didn't have a TV station in Hilo, so we had to rely on the radio reports. The announcements rolled in. All school was canceled until further notice as Hilo High School was being used as an emergency shelter (school wouldn't re-open for a couple of weeks). Boil your water before drinking in case the pipes had cracked and supplies were contaminated. Electricity will be turned back on as soon as possible. Volunteers were needed to help recover missing people from wrecked buildings. Once those who could be saved were rescued, and once most of those who died were recovered, the clean-up began. Students (boys especially) who wanted to help were asked to report to Hilo High to get tetanus shots before starting, and to bring gloves and shovels.

We heard disturbing stories about the carnage. About the man who was found dead in bed with a woman (not his wife). About heads separating from bodies as they were being taken from wreckage. About the stink of rotten human flesh. About the people who had died, including my friend's sister.

The newspaper was filled with pictures – some horrific, many fascinating. Rubble and wreckage. Parking meters bent horizontal to the ground by the force of the water. Familiar landmark buildings no longer there. A broken clock stopped at the exact moment the wave hit. People cleaning up.

Dad suggested that I call my classmate's father, who owned Standard Drug, and offer to help them clean up. When I called, Mr. Hara asked if my Dad had told me to call, and I lied. I said no. Thanks, he said, but they had things under control, and I was a good kid for calling.

The bridge to Coconut Island was washed out as well. It was the first bridge ever to connect with the island. Up to the time it was constructed, you had to go over by rowboat – quite an experience in itself – or wait until low tide and wade over, ever vigilant for deep water channels. A new one was built to replace it, one with modifications to withstand any future tsunamis.

A few days after the tidal wave, when Kamehameha Avenue was re-opened, Dad took us downtown to look at the wreckage. Every single building from Mamo Street to Waiakea Town was gutted, falling, or completely down. The town sort of reminded me of the sugarcane field in the back of our house, while the harvesters were working on it. And yet, with all the devastation and ruin around, you could see people cleaning up the stores, washing down the streets, installing new glass windows, painting their storefronts, and putting their lives back in order.

Hilo changed a lot after the tidal wave. The whole town moved back, up to higher ground. Tidal wave safety zones were set up, and the town adapted.

We all changed, we all adapted. What an experience.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Update: Tsunami Warning Canceled

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center canceled the alert at 1:38 p.m. Hawaii time.

Update: Interest is Waning

It looks as though the event has run its course, although the ocean is undergoing some conniptions described as “screwy.”

People who found higher-altitude vantage points are now starting to leave, and people can be seen going into the water at Waikiki Beach.

The local NBC affiliate is talking about scaling down its coverage soon, and will switch to its scheduled Winter Olympics coverage.

Update: Comparison to 1960 Tsunami

This event is so exhaustively covered by the news media, and yet it's so insignificant compared to the devastating 1960 tsunami that crushed my hometown of Hilo when I was a sophomore in Hilo High School.

Communication 50 years ago was nowhere as sophisticated as it is today.

When the current tsunami event concludes, I may have to post an article I wrote about my experiences in that “Big Wave” event.

Update: Wave Action is Reported on Oahu

There have been some reports of changes in the water at Barber’s Point on the northwest shore of Oahu, and in the Ala Wai Canal in Waikiki, as reported by people located on the higher floors of a Waikiki hotel.

TV coverage shows usually-submerged reefs making unusual appearances.

Update: Maui Waters Receding

TV is reporting that the water in Maui’s Kahului Harbor on the western shore is receding drastically at this time.

In the meantime, the ebb and flow in Hilo Harbor is increasing in intensity.

Update: Coconut Island an Indicator

Live TV coverage shows the waters around Coconut Island in Hilo Bay receding and then returning, ebbing and flowing, receding and returning at a faster and faster rate. Incredible shots.

This could be the start of the tsunami event that could continue on for hours.

Update: Hilo Waters Receding

One of my Facebook friends reports that observers in Hilo note that the water is receding and that a weather tracking buoy off Hawaii coast has dropped 27 inches.

I’m watching a live cam shot of Hilo Bay on television as we speak.

Update: No Wave in Hilo Yet

The tsunami was predicted to hit Hilo at 11:05 a.m. It’s now past that time, and no wave has been sighted (it’s being televised live on TV).

Update: Sirens Wailing

The Oahu sirens have changed to an on-off-on-off wail, signaling the impending strike.

Update: Event Cancellations

As might be expected, many, many events scheduled for today have been cancelled. If you want an up-to-date and fairly complete list, you can check KHON-TV’s website:

This reminds me of something pretty hilarious. During a previous alert many years ago, one of the cancelled events was a conference activity of a psychic’s convention. When I heard this, I thought, “How come they didn’t see this coming?”

Update: Roadways, Sirens, News Media

· The Marquesas Islands have reported six-foot tsunami waves.

· Hawaii counties have closed the roads in and around the inundation zones on the Big Island and on Maui, and are beginning to on Oahu. Precautions such as these are necessary.

· The sirens now will be sounding every half-hour. They’re blaring right now.

· In their zeal to be there “firstest with the mostest,” the news media are using social and new media a lot today.

Update: I Hear the Sirens

The tsunami alert sirens throughout Oahu just went off again. They started at 6 a.m. and are being sounded every hour on the hour.

There’s one about a quarter-mile from my house, so it’s pretty loud.

There’s something rather scary about sirens. Guess it’s in our DNA, impressed there from the air raid sirens of the previous world wars.

The tones of the different sirens vary, so it’s a concert of sorts.

Tsunami Predicted to Hit Hawaii Today

I was all set to write about the best prime ribs I’ve had, but Mother Nature tossed something more interesting into the pot last night.

An 8.8-magnitude earthquake near Santiago, Chile, generated a tsunami that’s expected to hit Hawaii late this morning. The first place to be affected will be Hilo, on the eastern shore of the Big Island of Hawaii.

The Oahu TV stations are full of images this morning, of cars lining up at the gas stations, and people crowding into supermarkets – a typical over-reaction by the populace. When an alert of any kind has been issued, they run to fill up gas, and buy batteries, rice and toilet paper.

I’m not concerned about the tsunami, except for Hilo, because I grew up there and lived through the 1960 wave that practically demolished the bay-front commercial district and killed 61 residents.

Anybody who was going to fly out of (or into) Hilo this morning won’t be able to. They closed the airport as a precaution.

We live in the upper Makiki area of Honolulu, high up and far from the Waikiki shoreline, so we’re nowhere near the designated inundation zone.

I’ll post updates later today.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Trader Joe’s Knows

Hawaii visitors to Las Vegas make Trader Joe’s on Decatur and O’Bannon one of their “must-go” stops. And don’t think the store doesn’t know it.

They recognize the importance of catering to the Hawaii crowd, and they express their gratitude any way they can – including huge window messages like the ones above.

Right on, Trader Joe’s. Way t’go!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Fishy Story

I recently saw two the largest pale-pink carp I’d ever seen in my life, swimming around in an aquarium just inside a San Jose Chinese restaurant.

The larger of the two must have exceeded a couple of feet long, swimming lazily from one end of a six-foot aquarium to the other, shoving some orange fish aside every time it passed by.

The hostess saw me taking their pictures and said the large one was 19 years old.

The thing is, it was only a little bigger than the other, which was trying to make itself invisible in one of the back corners of the fish tank.

Now I’m wondering how old the shy one is. I would say that I’d ask the next time I’m there, but I doubt I’ll go back … the food wasn’t very good.

Maybe I should have asked them to … um … never mind.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Waterfront Park Walks Resume

It’s been a while since we returned from San Jose, and what with catching up, doctors appointments, and other busy stuff that’s been happening the past couple of months, the wife and I haven’t had a lot of time to go on morning walks.

We remedied that this morning and made it a point to walk the promenade at Waterfront Park in Kakaako.

It was enjoyable, as usual, and gave us a chance to check out the park activities. It’s about time!

(If you click on the pictures, larger versions will magically appear on your screen.)

Wedding couple posing for album pictures

I wonder what the bird is thinking

I wonder what the man is thinking

Crabs to the left, crabs to the right, hup toop trip po!

A sinister black cat had its eyes on us

No surfboards allowed, according to the sign. Sign? What sign?

Beautiful symmetry of a coconut palm

Several watercraft were offshore

Lots of white water as the surf was up

Graffiti art on abandoned building (as we were leaving)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Good Dog, Blue!

I had a dog and his name was Blue …

Three-year-old Victoria Bensch of Cordes Lakes, Arizona, has a dog named Blue, and she’s mighty glad she does. She also has another dog named Rusty that she thought was lost, so she went out to find him last Thursday.

I had a dog and his name was Blue.

She didn’t know that Rusty was still in the house. Victoria disappeared wearing nothing but a tee shirt, pants and shoes, and spent the night in 30-degree temperature when she got lost about three-fourths of a mile from her home.

I had a dog and his name was Blue …

Blue – a Queensland Heeler – followed her into the woods and when the temperature dropped below freezing, kept Victoria warm by cuddling up with her. All she suffered were a bit of frostbite and swollen feet. Blue is credited with saving her life.

Betcha five dollars he’s a good dog too!

Good dog, Blue! Good dog!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Atomic Testing Museum (Las Vegas)

When I was in Las Vegas last year, I noticed a sign in the Flamingo Boulevard median strip – “Atomic Testing Museum,” with an arrow pointing to a new building that looked like it still needed finishing and landscaping.
A bit intrigued, I none-the-less didn’t give it a second thought … until this month, when I was there during Super Bowl weekend. The museum had opened.
There’s not a lot of interactive stuff there, and kids might be bored with its exhibits. But for those of us who grew up during the height of the Cold War, the various galleries send a chill up the spine because of how close we came to nuclear annihilation in the ‘60s.
Nevada, of course, is an important part of nuclear testing – both above- and under-ground. In the free, photo section of the museum are pictures that capture the awesome beauty and power of fireballs and mushroom clouds.
Unfortunately, on the day that I was there, four of the 14 galleries were closed, as National Geographic was there, filming interviews for a future special.
They didn’t allow photography, but I was able to sneak a couple of pictures:
Nuclear test mushroom clouds in Nevada

The famous Bikini Atoll hydrogen bomb test

Display of Geiger counters

Display noting omipresent nuclear radiation

Nuclear bomb designed to be carried by fighters

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pink Rosebud

Even in the dead of winter, beauty finds a way to nourish our hearts.

I just thought you‘d to see this picture today, taken on a cold January winter day under dreary gray skies in San Jose.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dirty Sheets vs Really Dirty Sheets

As a person who insists that bed sheets be changed and washed at least once a week, I gagged when I heard that a half-million (HALF MILLION!) people in England wash their sheets only three times a year. That’s every 120 days or so.

Yuck and eww!

Most Brits 25 and younger have the dirtiest bed sheets, and 10% of those wash their sheets every other month or so. Those over 55 are better, washing on average three times a month.

Ohhhh, the disease! The disease and filth that’s gathering on the beds!

How ‘bout us Americans? Forty percent are like me and wash our sheets every week, about a third washes every couple of weeks, 16% wash once a month, and 10% wash less than once a month.

That’s not as bad as the Brits, but remind me never to stay as a house guest in that lower 26% of our population.

And by the way, Londoners are the worst in England. Nearly a quarter of them wash their sheets once a month or less.

If I ever travel to England, I’m going to have to do some pre-vacation vetting of hotels and inns, and ask how often they wash their sheets.

Eww! Eww! Eww!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sadie the Lady Wins

Two nights of magnificent doggi-ness … two nights of canine superb-ity … two nights of woofy glory. That’s the Westminster Kennel Club Show.

Congrats to the owner, breeder, and handler of Ch Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscott (aka “Sadie”), a Scottish terrier who finally won on her third try last night. My favorite doggie – the beagle – didn’t make it to the finals this year. He was beaten in the hound group competition by a whippet.

Unfortunately, the “live” coverage by USA Network wasn’t live at all in Hawaii, not by a longshot. The show’s West Coast feed was delayed, and Hawaii’s airing was further delayed another couple of hours. So I didn’t get to watch it live (couldn’t stay up that long in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning).

Thank God for DVR! I watched it this morning, although I knew who won Best in Show before going to bed.

I love this dog show.

Post script: PETA (the animal rights organization) is supported by some rude people. They stink. All of them – for barging into center ring during the Best In Show competition.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Slot Machine Display

Along the concourse to Terminal 3 at San Francisco International Airport is a huge gallery that changes its displays from time to time.

Currently, the SFO North Connect Gallery is showing old slot machines from Joe Welch's San Bruno American Antique Museum.

The ornate machines date from the late 1800s to the 1960s.

I had a couple of hours between flights on my recent trip, so I was able to wander along and check them out, photographing some that caught my eye.

Beautiful, no?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me

Ahoy, me hearties! The Black Pearl has sailed into Hawaiian waters! Aaargh!

The pirate ship made famous in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies docked Sunday at Barber’s Point on the east shore of Oahu to be decked out for its reprise role in a new “Pirates” movie to be shot on Oahu and Kauai.

Built by an Alabama shipyard in 2005, the “Sunset” (its real name), is just a fa├žade that just looks like a 17th Century warship. Inside, it has an engine that can move it at a brisk 9 knots.

I’m wondering if there’s any way I can sneak into the closed harbor and catch a real-life glimpse of this ship. If you get a text message saying I’m in jail, please come bail me out.

Look for "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," in theaters next summer.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The ‘Cactus House’

At the southwest corner of the 19th and Ocean Avenues intersection in San Francisco is a veritable “mini-forest” of cactus.

It’s hard to miss the mustard-colored house sporting a gang of prickly pear cactus plants in its front yard. The wife spotted it around the first week of her treatment at UCSF Medical Center, as we tootled up 19th Avenue to the hospital.

We used it as a landmark ever since.

I mean, whoever expects to see a garden of prickly pear cactus fronting a busy six-lane thoroughfare in the middle of a major city, anyway?

Not me, that’s for sure.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Super Bowl Party

Every year for quite a while now, I mosey on over to Las Vegas to spend Super Bowl weekend – placing my legal bets on who I think will win, and at least one other wager (most likely the over/under).

I’ve watched the game at sports books, and at “big game parties.” I even shelled out a hundred bucks one year to attend a classy party at the Paris Hotel & Casino. The past two years, I’ve gone to the free one at Tuscany Suites & Casino.

It’s fun to watch a game in those venues, with up to 500 screaming fans cheering for their teams as the game is played out on four or more giant screens. The food and beer is cheap and the company is quite convivial.

Why, the people there even cheer and boo during the commercials! Three commercials were totally booed this year:

Dodge: A guy makes all kinds of promises to his woman if she’ll let him buy a Charger R/T.

Dove Men+Care: Reflections on a guy’s life journey, including first kiss, and marriage.

Focus on the Family: The Tim Tebow mom’s ad that caused controversy before the game but turned out to be much ado about nothing.

Hey! You gotta remember, these parties are attended mostly by men.

The party-goers’ favorites?

Mars Snickers: Betty White gets creamed.

Bud Light: The house made out of full beer cans.

Denny’s: Free Grand Slam breakfast day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Las Vegas Reflections

Having just returned from my annual “Watch the Super Bowl in Las Vegas” sojourn, and then spending the last day or so in bed nursing a bad cold, I’ve had time to gather some random thoughts about my trip.

Antique Malls

One of the things I like to do is visit antique malls – mostly to search for monkey figurines that fit my collection.

Over the past couple of years, the number of antique malls, and booth holders as well, has been dwindling.

Whereas there used to be five or six scattered throughout the city, there are now only three mentioned in the tourist guides. And these have fewer exhibitors by half.

On a side note, the Indoor Swap Meet on Decatur is still open on weekends, but when I visited this time, approximately a third (perhaps as much as 40%) of the booths were empty.

Pretty sad … even antiques are being affected by the bad economy that’s hit Las Vegas hard.

A Brush with Famous People?

While waiting for my flight from San Francisco to Vegas, I noticed the overhead flight information display board.

There listed on the “Confirmed waiting seats” screen was “Wie/M.” Could it be? Was the famous young golfer Michelle Wie on my flight? I waited with bated breath, craning my neck around to see if I could spot her.

No such luck. They announced “Mr. Wietzak” instead. Rats.

Then, before my flight back to Hawaii from Los Angeles, they called for “Peterson, Mr. Paul Peterson” to check at the podium. Paul Peterson. Could it be? Was it really “Jeff” of the old “Donna Reed Show” (‘50s television)?

I waited with bated breath, craning my neck around to see if I could spot him.

No such luck. Oh well, so much for famous people on my flights.

Snow in the Desert

Just as people are surprised when they find out it actually snows in Hawaii atop a couple of the world’s highest mountains, so was I surprised the first time I saw snow in Las Vegas.

Well okay, it’s not actually IN Vegas, but on the mountains to the west – particularly Mt. Charleston.

It was cold in Las Vegas when I was there, typically in the high 40s during the day – cold enough for it to snow on the mountain tops.

A Big Help

You’ve probably seen the email that says to look at the gas pump icon on your dashboard, and if the hose is on the left, your gas tank fills from the left, and if it’s on the right, the filling is done from the right.

That of course, is wrong.

However, my Chevy Cobalt rental eliminates the confusion. Notice the gas tank indicator in the picture. Now THAT’S useful when driving into a filling station.

Big Ol’ Bear

Finally, I always like to say hello to Mr. Papa Bear, who’s perched on top of the junk box at Black Bear Diner, one of my favorite Las Vegas breakfast restaurants.

Howdy sir … hope you’re having a great day!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Puppy Adoptions

We saw this sign set up on a median while driving around San Jose last week.

It made me curious, so with every intention of calling the number and asking questions, I took a picture so I could follow-up later.

To make a long story short, I forgot. It was only after we got back to Hawaii and I was downloading files from my flash drive to my home computer did I discover the picture.

So I Googled the darned thing. Guess what? I found it. It’s a San Jose animal shelter.

One of their online classified postings features sixteen 9- to 10-week-old puppies being put up for adoption. The puppies came from the home of an elderly lady who passed away – there are eight puppies left (three Dachshund mix, three Maltese-Chihuahua-Mini Schnauzer mix, and two Pomeranian mix).

Another posting offers nine 8-week-old puppies rescued from a Fresno County ranch that was flooded during the heavy storms that hit California. The mother is a Husky/Walker Hound mix and the father is a Labrador mix.

But it’s not a free giveaway, not by any means. The adoption fees run $275 to $350. I’m presuming the shelter is legitimate.

Hope they find good homes.