Tsunami Watch, Hawaii in the Dark

03/11/2011 08:27 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Mindy Pennybacker Author, 'Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices'

It's 11 p.m. HST, and Hawaii has been on tsunami alert for about an hour following the tragic earthquake in Japan. A truck is circling our neighborhood, with a man giving an emergency management message over a loudspeaker: "Extremely dangerous waves are expected at 3 am. Occupants of high-rise buildings are advised to go to the third floor or above without delay."

We won't be evacuating our two-story house this year, having done the full drill last February when the Chilean earthquake struck and a 30-foot wave was predicted to hit Hawaiian shores (it turned out to be six inches). We live in a no man's land on the tsunami evacuation map -- on the far side of the evacuation line that follows Diamond Head Road, but only two short blocks from the water's edge. Do we trust the authorities and their maps? No. We're hedging our bets and ready to walk up the hill if we see the sea start to recede. Although, come to think of it, we probably won't see it, since it'll be dark at 3:07 am, estimated arrival time for the first wave.

It's a clear night, a quarter moon and scattering of stars. Through my window I can hear the couple next door, the one with the young toddler, packing supplies in their kitchen. Our new neighbor, the Hawaii 5-0 star, roars off in his pickup truck. At least our area "tidal wave" siren -- in Waikiki -- is working this year. And the TV news isn't telling us to go shopping, so roads will hopefully not be blocked with unnecessary traffic should emergency vehicles need to get through.

Apart from that, we've made no progress in disaster prep or survival smarts: Hawaii's no more food or energy secure than we were last year. We continue to import 85-90% of our food and 100% of the fossil fuels that produce 90% of our energy. To counter this, the utility and state government are heavily promoting the development of biofuels, which will commandeer agricultural land that could be used to grow more food.

Also in the name of sustainability, Honolulu last month broke ground on a long-deferred light rail project intended to reduce our reliance on petroleum. Ironically, the rail line begins in agricultural lands that are devoid of commuters -- for now. Obviously the plan is to rezone those lands for urban use to fuel the endless, mindless development that keeps some Hawaii citizens in short-term jobs. Which is not sustainable.

Sadly, the earthquake may arrive on the first day of a sustainability food and design weekend at the Halekulani Hotel on the beach at Waikiki, which celebrates local food producers and benefits the community college culinary institute that produces fine local-grown chefs.

I was planning on attending, so I didn't go food shopping earlier today, when I had the chance!

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