“They didn’t think much to the ocean
The waves, they was fiddlin’ and small
There was no wrecks… nobody drownded
‘Fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.”
(Marriott Edgar – ‘The Lion & Young Albert’)
The internet never ceases to amaze me in terms of the way it shrinks our planet, making yesterday’s exotica seem like tomorrow’s commonplaces, though this, I think, kills the romance of travel and turns everything into an excursion. My mate Ade’s eldest is now in Laos and communicating via Facebook as though she was in Leicester. I was talking to someone the other day about the thrill of ‘Poste Restante’ mail pick-ups, where you’d arrive at some shabby backwater town in the wilds of Whereverland, turn up at the ‘Poste Restante’ desk at the local Post Office and discover one or maybe more letters from home. There were no cellphones and calls from local landlines were insanely expensive and technically dodgy. You really felt cut off from your friends and family – OK, so it wasn’t as edgy as Lewis & Clark traversing America to find the Pacific coast, but getting hold of those letters felt like a real treasure trove even though they were inevitably full of parish pump affairs and news of sprained ankles and cricket matches, of maiden aunts and the British rain in the soft summer afternoons…..
Not for the Facebook kids, who are uploading their photos from internet caffs from here to Mandalay so that you know what they’ve been up to the night before even before their hangover wears off the following day. Reassuring in these days of Somalian pirates and terrorist lunatics, but it does somehow diminish the romance of it all.
Look out, there’s a senior Superintendent about……
Anyway, I read about the Chilean earthquake on the BBC website just three hours after it had happened and after digesting the fact that the death toll seemed amazingly low, my next thought was of a potential tsunami. I saw a show on TV here a few years back where some guy went out to one of the westernmost islands in the Canary Islands archipelago – one of the non-touristy ones – where, due to a geological fault line, half of the island is on the brink of breaking off and dropping into the Atlantic, thereby setting off massive tsunamis. As there is no land between this island and the eastern seaboard of the USA, the presenter was painting a rather ghoulish picture of cities from Miami to Boston being washed away by a series of 250-foot high waves.
Anyway, it seemed to me that the Chilean earthquake could set off a similar pattern of waves spreading outwards across the Pacific. I soon discovered that Hawaii was only 15 hours away and that there was no intervening land mass to diminish the waves. A real-life blockbuster began to take shape in my head – I could almost see the skyscrapers collapsing like dominoes into the boiling surf, the ships tossed like empty boxes, the people engulfed like ants in a flood….what a movie this would be. I had Kevin Costner pegged for the hard-bitten geologist who tries to warn the islanders to take to the hills, with Michelle Rodriguez from ‘Avatar’ as his pouting succulent…. anyway, I digress.
A gratuitous shot of Michelle Rodriguez, who has nothing to do with this story.
To my delight I discovered the website for KITV4 of Honolulu, an ABC affiliate, which was running a live feed from their rolling news coverage of how Hawaii was gearing up for a potential watery Armagedddon still speeding across the Pacific towards them. For hours, this noble band of journalists – about 4 studio anchors and maybe 6 ‘roving’ reporters kept all the balls in the air, repeating the Tsunami Warning that required evacuation of some of the lowland areas of Oahu and the outer islands, reporting on the good-natured way that the local populace was dealing with all this and trying to make sense of some of the scientific gobbledygook that the experts from the ‘Pacific Institute for Something Terribly Important to do with the Ocean’ were spouting. Apparently, so we were told, the bays were at a greater risk than the open coastline because of ‘resonance issues’. OK, fella, so my expensive tropical paradise lodge at Hilo Bay is about to be turned into matchwood by the Pacific, so could you at least try to explain why ‘resonance’ is such an issue? The scientists, all in loud floral Hawaiian shirts, all looking like members of an unsuccessful Loggins and Messina tribute band, were all uniformly hopeless in front of the TV cameras, and they were all very careful not to make any statements that would come back and bite them in the ass – phrases like ‘We are confident that….’ or ‘I think we can now say with some certainty…’ were as rare as hen’s teeth.
The TV station people were a mix of indigenous Hawaiians and ‘off-islanders’ and they were trying to project a strong belief in the ability of the population to maintain their cool and do the right thing. The subtext for them was that there was a community here with the necessary skills to pull Hawaii through any forthcoming crisis. Inevitably, there were moments where the pace flagged and we were treated to a revolving travelogue from some of Honolulu’s CCTV cameras – well, those close to the coast anyway. and though the horizon was duly scanned, it all seemed totally blameless. Let’s face it; it was a gorgeous day, cloudless and with temperatures in the low 80’s – and yet the beaches were largely deserted apart from the odd refusenik who just wouldn’t be moved by the police, the media or anyone else.
The names were great, too, in a kind of ‘Bama-lama-a wop-bam-boom-shang-a-lang’ kind of way. All the journalistic gravitas these journalists had was somehow punctured when they were introduced as ‘Mahialeohea’ or something similar – and all the local information they gave out all sounded made up. ‘Kahialeva Bay and Amalapeya Avenue are closed, as is the Rahoriponeya Expressway and the Wahikiwonna Marina. Just brought back memories of that Spike Jones version of the ‘Hawaiian War Chant’….
Anyway, the Beardy Loggins & Messina Boys were back on having no doubt mellowed out with a couple of big fat ones full of home-grown and they were confidently predicting that the New Riders of the Purple Sage were going to make a big comeback this year. Oh, and they also said that the first waves would reach south-east facing (i.e. Chile-facing) Hilo Bay at about 9 pm last night (UK time). The anchors picked up on this and we started to get some weird pronunciations – Chile became ‘Chill-ay’ (emphasis on the ‘ay’) – making it sound unbearably camp and Hawaii became ‘Har- vy-ee’ (emphasis on the ‘vy’) as you would expect a German to pronounce it. Maybe they’d just been on air too long…..
An artists’ impression of a Beardy Hawaiian Scientist….
So, I tuned back in for the big Hollywood finale about 8:45. By now the Beardy Boys were red-eyed and babbling about 6-7 foot waves; not a cataclysm but capable of serious destruction. But for once, nature refused to co-operate. 9 pm came and went and the waves rolled in at a deserted Waikiki Beach, but no bigger than usual. Most of what activity there was seemed to be happening in one of the rivers – maybe the Wailuku – that flows into Hilo Bay. Water here seemed to be surging in and out, with large-scale disturbance of silt and sediment and big rises & falls in the water levels within the river.
The Beardy Boys were still being exasive – ‘Does what has – or hasn’t – happened here means that the Japanese can relax?’ asked one reporter ‘Well, I think I’d have to leave that to the Japanese to decide….’ came the usual shifty answer. Nothing like Richard Dreyfus in ‘Jaws‘…now there was a beardy scientist who said what he thought and screw the consequences. The Beardy Boys have clearly had a few lectures on accountability. As for the TV folks, they did a sterling job and thankfully failed to observe that staple of US television, where, in a discussion, the speaker looks into the camera as though they are addressing their comments to you rather than to a colleague. So well done KITV4 for keeping us going on the Tsunami that Never Was for upwards of 12 hours….a sterling effort…