Kona Tsunami A Wake Up Call for Perspective

Have you ever been fortunate enough to experience a natural disaster first hand? An earthquake, forest fire, tsunami?  I say “fortunate” because only by actually experiencing the loss, the sadness and the knowing that something that was there yesterday, is no longer there today, can you feel compassion towards others who go through it.

I was in the Bay Area for the Loma Prieta Earthquake in October 1989. However, besides losing a water heater in our garage and cleaning up some broken dishes, it was not that bad. (although the sense of disaster was in the air for days after that as everyone existed in a shared state of shock).  I also have a family home in Lake Tahoe that was less than a 1/4 of a mile from being burned by the Lily Lake fire in 2007. Seeing the neighborhoods decimated by that fire and the mountain sides that still have acres of burned forest made us feel like we missed a bullet.

Now, we came within 50 feet of losing our home to the tsunami that hit Keauhou/Kona on March 11th. Again, I missed the bullet, but again, we still live in an area that saw its share of overall devastation. Our beaches are ruined and businesses demolished.

The feeling of shock is just now starting to dissipate as the Kona businesses block off Alii Drive in downtown and get to work fixing the street, mucking out the sand and debris that swirled around inside their stores for hours and get ready for a public event on Sunday to show everyone “Kona Is Open For Business”. The county has poured mounds of sand down at the Keauhou Bay beach and the Keauhou Canoe Club members are working down there today to get the place cleaned up.

It is seeing this level of determination by the business owners, the county workers and the residents to move on that makes me have hope for those in Japan. They have suffered far worse than Hawaii, both ins property destruction and loss of life. However, when I saw the pictures of people looking for their homes in what was left of their neighborhoods in Japan, I have a clearer sense of compassion after seeing our beach get swept away last week along with the buildings we walk past each week on our way to get some coffee at the Sheraton.

I went down to “H” Bay this morning, located right next to Keauhou Bay. The little hidden Hawaiian village we recently discovered down there when they cleared out the foliage a few months ago is ruined..(if you can say that about ruins being ruined.)  The fresh water springs that were carefully constructed with lava rock walls by the ancient Hawaiians were filled in with rocks, coral, sand and debris.

Gone. Only when you have been in a disaster do you truly understand that feeling of  “GONE”. And not just “Gone, let’s rebuild it again” like we did in the Bay Area. Gone are things that you can’t rebuild. Like the huge tree near that beach we created memories on with our six year old and now that tree is in pieces 50 feet away from the water with coral crushing it.

I am glad it was not my home that was taken from me. But walking around looking at tires hanging from trees and the smell of the rotting debris, fish and coral is something that newspaper pictures just don’t and can not capture. I think about our “island brothers” in Japan and I mourn for them. The folks in Kona are coping by doing the only thing you can do:  start picking up, sweeping, and hauling. The landscape has changed, but you move on. And you have a lot more compassion for those faces in the paper.

Here is the video we took when we walked down to Keauhou Bay the morning after the 12 foot wave hit the beach. We were surprised that the ocean was continuing to surge in and out for a few hours…causing even more damage as the walls and structures were undermined by sand and rocks.

Keauhou Tsunami

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Julie Ziemelis

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