The Day the Earth Moved…and We Missed It (Earthquake in Hawaii)
The sun had not fully risen yet and already the mosquitoes were feasting on our flesh. In the pre-dawn light, we studied our map and loaded our rental Jeep with all the tourist essentials. The adventure that lay before us entailed crossing Hawaii’s largest island, from Hilo to Kailua-Kona, where my boyfriend Beau had arranged a private fishing charter. He expected that by the end of the day we would have unforgettable tales to tell of majestic marlin and catching “the big one”.
He was right about the tales, but we could never have guessed their topic.
Just after 7 a.m. we slowed to a stop at a red light in the center of town. We were listening to our Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the radio when all of a sudden the signal went completely dead. There was no static, no interference; just complete silence, as though someone at the station had pulled the plug. At that same moment, Beau gave me an urgent nudge.
“Look at that,” he said, pointing upward. The streetlight, which extended out over the road on a long steel arm, was shaking up and down violently. A row of palm trees lining the waterfront was also swaying back and forth, despite the lack of movement in the humid October air.
“Well that’s pretty strange,” I said nonchalantly.
“Maybe it’s an earthquake,” joked Beau.
“Yeah, right. We would’ve felt that.” We shrugged our shoulders and went on our way, completely unaware that we had just been witness to the largest earthquake to hit Hawaii since 1983.
Thirty minutes later, as we wound our way north into the mountains, we began to realize our theory was not so silly after all. Fallen rocks littered the highway around every bend. Each turn brought another heart-stopping moment as Beau slammed on the brakes to avoid colliding with a boulder. We could smell and taste the fresh soil still lingering in the air.
Men climbed out of their trucks and cleared away rubble with their bare hands. At a gas station, a group of nearby residents had gathered for an impromptu town meeting amongst the shattered light bulbs and fallen signs. Their children stood alongside the road waving their arms and shouting to passersby.
“Slow down !”
Eventually the radio airwaves sprang back to life and we learned that a 6.7 magnitude earthquake had struck just off the Kona coast at the precise moment we were at that stoplight in downtown Hilo. Homes were damaged and electricity was out as far away as Maui and Honolulu, yet we had not felt the slightest vibration.
We didn’t get much farther before the highway was closed due to dangerous conditions. Beau contacted the fishing boat captain, who told him the trip was still on. So we turned around and headed across the island on the infamous Saddle Road, ignoring the clause in our rental car contract that forbade us to do so.
The road itself isn’t what kills people, the locals told us, it’s the careless drivers who speed along its winding curves. But with the morning’s incident we practically had the route all to ourselves. For eighty-six miles we watched nearly every possible landscape unfold outside our windows – lush rainforest, volcanic lava field, upcountry meadow, and finally arid desert as we approached the west coast. Our quiet contemplation was interrupted frequently by messages from the Emergency Broadcast System. It occurred to me later that was the first time in my life I had heard the real thing and not just a test. (Incidentally, the second time would come the very next day as we navigated through Volcanoes National Park in a veritable monsoon.)
In the end, we found out the hard way that marlin do not respond well to large earthquakes. After four hours and $500 we hadn’t had so much as a nibble. Too tired to enjoy the sea turtles on the black sand beach, we pointed our Jeep back toward Hilo.
We climbed into bed that night with our eyes glued to the nonstop national news coverage of the quake. It was hard to believe we had been in the middle of it all and not even been aware. Beau and I created many special memories on our trip to Hawaii, but we will always remember October 15th, 2006 as the day the Earth moved…. and we missed it.
By Allison Savage