Saturday, February 27, the sirens wailed at six a.m. all across the islands, we later learned, but to us in rural southern Maui, in a cottage too close to the sea, the alarm came from a low flying plane along the coast.
The sun was just coming up over the eastern horizon, where the sea meets the dawn. It was a remarkably clear day, and the dome of blue would have meant blistering sun, but we knew the weather would change. Our hotel had informed us by letter and visit with a rap on the door early in the dark of that morning, so we were warned. We had planned to fly home, so we were busy packing, and now we wondered where or when we would fly, if at all. Perhaps we would be evacuated with the others, who had been told to move to higher ground, to, indeed, Fagan’s Cross, the lava cross on the promontory on the side of Haleakala.
The uncertainty weighed heavily as I looked out to sea that early morning, out to the bright sun, the rugged lava coast, the green fields. My novel,Hana-lani, set here, celebrates the setting and the culture of this traditional community, its peaceful and friendly way of life, its embrace of family, both near and far, and writing the story had deepened my love for these folks. Everyone here is ohana, family, and everyone is cared for. I prayed for these people who had given us so much over so many years. I prayed they would be spared this terrible wave that was rolling through the seas from distant Chile. I prayed for those in Chile too, who had been victims of these terrible rages of nature.
Not for the first time, the fragility of life danced before me, as though the earth of my own world shook a bit, became less stable. I could be a person living in Chile. I could be a resident here in Hana as the waters rose. One day it could be me.
And would we be able to return home? Would the roads be blocked, the planes grounded? Would utilities and basic serviced be shut down?
We moved ahead, one step at a time. The old red fire truck, now the hotel shuttle (a ‘39 Packard) delivered us to the Hana airport, where, in spite of everything, the propjet arrived from Kahului. We boarded and strapped ourselves in, and lifted into the air, flying low along the coast, amazed at the clear day, the absence of any signs of trouble over the waters. Cobalt blues rushed against the black cliffs, and the deeply green flanks of Haleakala rose to the blue dome of a sky. Paradise.
Arriving at the Kahului airport, so quiet at 9 a.m., we joined the waiting lines to check in, slowly moving through the minutes of the morning, praying for Hana. The wave was due to hit Hilo at 11:15. The airport lights dimmed, the water, we were told had been shut down, the restaurants closed.
TSA still screened us carefully, and by 11:30 we had reached our gate in the terminal. Folks peered through the wide windows toward the sea, anxious. Would a wave engulf the airport for surely we were sea level? They said no, but how did they know? Images from movies and news footage passed through my mind, Southeast Asia a few years ago, the Titanic. The tension in the air was tangible, and we made small talk with others waiting, glancing toward the horizon, which we were sure was growing darker and darker. As noon approached, we began to feel safe again, as we heard reports of mild waves, nothing unusual. The world began to right itself around us. Now we worried – would there be a plane? Would there be crew and pilot, for the roads to the airport had been closed.
The plane arrived, the pilots arrived, and we headed home for San Francisco, thankful that Hana had been spared, and now praying for those in Chile.