From the Editor...
This is normally a happy time for us all as we pack up the old year and turn toward the new, but not this year, with the tsunami tragedy in the Indian Ocean. I come from Hilo and grew up with the memory of tidal waves (and we still call them that, even though we know that the technically correct term is tsunami.) The big one was in 1946, when 159 people died and survivors had harrowing tales to tell. A friend of my father’s came to our house, the only survivor in his family. He was swept out like everyone else living at the shore, and then rode the big wave back in on a mattress, losing consciousness as they crashed into the train roundhouse near Ho`olulu Park. He felt lucky to be alive but had no where to go, so he stayed with us for a while. These were the kinds of stories that were told and retold in Hilo, so that even those of us who were too young to remember, remember. But my memory is clear of the 1960 wave when 61 souls were lost to the ocean, because I was in high school and classmates died in that wave. A few days after the disaster, we were helping with the cleanup at Lili`uokalani Park but I left early because I stepped on a nail and had to get a tetanus shot. I recall the relief I felt when my foot started to bleed, because as we were picking up debris, I was worrying that I would turn over a board or tin roofing and find someone I knew. I’m sure everyone had been accounted for by the time we teenagers were allowed in, but back then, it was too real a possibility in my young and immature mind, and to this day, I wonder if I stepped on that nail on purpose.
This is what I know of tsunamis, and yet as the news slowly leaked out the week before New Year about the giant waves in the Indian Ocean, I could not and still cannot comprehend the enormity of the disaster. With each passing day when I think it should be getting better, the news in fact, gets worse.
I want to know why there was no way to alert everyone of a threatening wave. After 1946, Hawai`i , Alaska and the West Coast of the U.S. designed a system and since 1948, if an earthquake occurred or a wave developed anywhere in or around the Pacific, sirens posted along our shores scream at us to run up mauka. It’s a reminder how puny we humans are, that in the face of a force of nature such as a tsunami, the only thing we can do is try to get out of its way. And yet, even if all we do is issue warnings to run as fast as we can, at least that’s better than nothing. I am appalled to learn that even though some of us have had a warning system for nearly 60 years, many parts of the world have no system at all. How is this possible? In an age of international television and radio transmissions, of cell phones with video cameras, of world-wide text-messaging and emailing and blogging…how is it that we can fritter our time away babbling mindlessly on the phone, or forwarding silly stories, stupid jokes and useless messages in high-speed Internet, while a large part of the world still cannot even warn its inhabitants of an imminent disaster heading in their direction?
I am also annoyed at the hand-wringing and wailing that it could happen here. From the day after the tsunami, American newspapers and television began reporting on possibilities that a wave could hit U.S. coasts, painting scenarios that resemble terrifying disaster movies. I want to yell: Never mind the What Ifs, because there is a part of the world where this catastrophe actually occurred! And then as this paper was going to press, I had the misfortune of seeing photos of some tourists in those areas already back on the beach, sunning themselves amid the death and destruction. “We’re not going to give up our vacation!” they said, and I can only shake my head in wonder and despair.
This devastating tsunami underscores the reality that the gulf between the so-called First and Third World is wider and deeper than we had imagined. My hope for this New Year is that countries develop more effective communication systems by sharing collective resources and sophisticated technology in order to protect the peoples of the world from such disasters and improve their quality of life. ~RdC
Copyright © 2004-2009 by Northwest Hawai`i Times