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Hawaii Preps For Waves Unleashed By Japanese Quake

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The tsunami caused by that massive 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan has been traveling across the Pacific. The west coast of the United States is on alert, and many coastal communities have been told to evacuate. And in Hawaii, the tsunami waves have already hit.

Joining us from Honolulu is news director for Hawaii Public Radio, Bill Dorman. Good morning.

BILL DORMAN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What exactly happened when the tsunami made its way finally to the islands?

DORMAN: Well, I tell you, overall it's been a pretty nervous night in Honolulu, but now that dawn is approaching, there's a wave of relief sweeping the islands, rather than a wave of destruction, and certainly we're glad to see that. We have seen some high waves three feet or more on both the islands of Oahu and Kauai and elsewhere.

Authorities have not yet posted an all clear, but scientists and some of the local emergency people are saying that they feel that the worst may be over at this point.

MONTAGNE: Well, then looking back, you know, exactly did it work? The earthquake generated the tsunami which hit Japan. It was in the evening your time, right? So do people - did people in Hawaii know - clearly they must have known that there was a tsunami headed their way.

DORMAN: Yes. One of the things about things about the time involved, because there was such a long lead time from the quake in Japan, we did know that this was coming, and authorities did have - they started out with a tsunami watch. And then when they upgraded it to a tsunami warning, that was really when they kicked it up another level.

Here in Honolulu for instance, there were sirens that were howling intermittently throughout the evening. It was in time for a lot of the local newscasts to be able to tell people. Emergency broadcast systems were working. So really, in terms of getting the word ahead of time, authorities here were able to accomplish that.

MONTAGNE: So when people went to bed last night, they went to bed in places that they thought would be safe when the tsunami hit, I mean, presumably. In other words, if you lived right on the coast, what, did people move inland with friends and relatives?

DORMAN: Generally that's true. I think in Hawaii, because we are used to severe weather, not just tsunamis, but certainly heavy rainstorms, Pacific swells and storms, people who live in areas that are vulnerable realize that they are, and they will be the first ones to take precautions.

For instance, when you open a phone book in the state of Hawaii, you will see a map that is color-coded with zones of flood inundation, and people refer to that all the time in terms of if you live in one of these, you should be prepared to move when conditions warrant.

MONTAGNE: When a tsunami hits the islands, does it hit it in the way that we might imagine? That is, a big swell, in this case, thankfully, just a couple three feet, but a big swell, a big wave? Does it hit just one side of the island?

DORMAN: Actually, tsunamis tend to encircle entire islands. So it doesn't matter which side you are one, if you're facing east or west or north. It's more about the nature of the coastline that you're on that can help determine the damage. But the tsunami's power itself will encircle an entire island.

MONTAGNE: Well, thankfully everything went well.

DORMAN: Yes. It looks so far so good, and will move on.

MONTAGNE: Bill Dorman is the news director for Hawaii Public Radio. Thanks very much for joining us.

DORMAN: Thanks, and aloha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.