Karen Pettingell |

I was in Maui in March 2011, when Tokyo had the 9.1 earthquake.

It was March 10th, and my husband and I went on a whale watch.  January, February, and March are prime whale season in Hawaii.  The humpback whales migrate there to have their babies in the warm water.  We had been on this particular whale watch several times with the same captain.  She was a seasoned veteran was extremely knowledgeable about ocean life, especially whales. 

We spent the morning following and observing many whales and calves.  On our trip back to Lahaina harbor the captain seemed concerned.  She said the whales were acting strange and seemed to be heading out to deeper water.  She even made the comment, “I wonder what is going to happen”.  We were curious too but went about our day enjoying our vacation.

Fast forward to that evening, approx. 8-9 pm, and the news of the Tokyo earthquake was spreading.  The earthquake took place at 2:45 pm in Tokyo, which is 7:45 pm in Hawaii.  We went to bed and were woken up a few hours later by a knock on our door.  It was hotel staff telling us we needed to evacuate up to the lobby level (3rd floor) due to a tsunami warning.  Our room was directly behind the beach.  The tsunami was supposed to hit Maui at 5-6am, so we decided to go back to sleep for a while.  Shortly after we went back to bed, we woke to another knock, and the staff telling us to get out of our room now.  I packed everything I had in 3 minutes, meanwhile my husband took nothing, and we went up to the lobby level. 

It was a scary, eerie feeling because the only tsunami I knew of was the one in Indonesia which was catastrophic.  My mother was trying desperately to reach me because by now the media was hyping it up big time.   The staff were great, they were calm and accommodating to everyone.  One of the ballrooms was set up with beds, food, drinks, TVs, and cribs.  We decided to sit on a bench outside of the ballroom and as much as I tried, I couldn’t sleep.  There were a couple of crazy people down on the beach and the staff was trying to get them back upstairs.

Finally, around 7:00 am, we were allowed back to our rooms.  There were some waves that hit Maui and did some damage, but Kaanapali Beach, where we were was spared.  Upon returning to our room, we noticed there was a big red X on our door which showed just how serious the situation was.  Seeing X on the door reminded me of the scenes I saw on TV of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina when houses were marked with an X when they were evacuated, and I was so thankful that we were safe.