After a Tsunami Alarm, All's Well.
So what do you take when the radio announcer- my friend Margaret- says there is a tsunami warning and the police want everyone to get to higher ground-- above 100 feet- NOW?
The dogs,my wallet, and phone. Oh, and the head lamp from the hook by the door. It was 2:30 in the morning.
"Which car?" I asked. My husband and I had waded to the garage in shin deep snow.
He said "both," no doubt thinking that may be all we have left after our beachfront home is destroyed.
I drove to save our elderly neighbor, Betty, and he went across the street to wake up another friend. "Are you sure?" She has to teach in the morning and might get mad. "Heather, it's a tsunami warning. We are on the beach. Hurry up." Our daughter next door and her family were already driving to higher ground. There were a handful of cars out on the road, which is a lot more than usual.
We almost didn't know about the tsunami warning. Pearl woke us barking at 2 in the morning. "Snow falling off the roof", Chip said and put a pillow on his face. I looked out the window-- there was a lot more snow than had been predicted. Then I heard a truck in the driveway. Chip investigated as the truck pulled into Stoli's house, next door. I could see the headlights through the woods.
I wondered if I should call my daughter, or the police. Who would be up at this hour and why? Someone on drugs? There isn't a late ferry. It must be an emergency and they are looking for my daughter or son-in-law and used our driveway by mistake. My granddaughter has an earache. She hasn't been feeling well. Maybe she is sick with that deadly flu, and her parents called an ambulance and a friend heard the tone-out and arrived ahead of the crew?
Now I was wide awake.
This is what a strange winter of rain, ice, and no snow to speak of until now, does to an Alaskan. It makes me anxious. A little fearful. Something is not right. Chip was out in the yard in boxers and a coat and boots, looking for the truck driver.
I walked downstairs to call my daughter, and saw the tsunami alert on my phone. I turned on the radio, and the BBC announcer said there had been an 8.2 earthquake in Alaska and coastal towns were evacuating due to tsunami fears, from Sitka here in southeast to Kodiak and out in Unalaska-- that's where another daughter lives- there were warnings all the way to Oregon.
I went on-line. Looks like we missed a big earthquake. Sleeping. I turned on the radio and it was BBC overnight news service. That was a relief. If it were a real emergency someone would break in and advise us. I checked Facebook to see the news from here. Our neighbor Greg was evacuating, and others asked him if we were supposed to, or not?
Then, the BBC announcer was replaced by Margaret. She said the quake was a 7.9, and located near Kodiak in the Gulf of Alaska and that there was a warning issued for the coast, including Haines.
Haines is 80 or so miles up Lynn Canal, which is actually a fjord, walled in on both sides and very deep. The sun does not rise or set over the ocean here. It comes and goes behind the mountains, which also block ocean rollers from the Gulf of Alaska. I had been told, years ago, that our only danger of a local tsunami comes from a landslide in Lynn Canal, or an earthquake centered in the canal. If that sort of quake shakes loose a mountain and part of it falls in the water, the wave could be deadly, and also happens very fast. We'd know that by now. We don't have the tsunami evacuation route and shelter signs that they do in Sitka or Unalaska. We have never even practiced this. Where do we go? How much time do we have?
Margaret came on the radio again, and said anyone at sea level in Haines should move to above 100 feet, or drive out past the airport, and helpfully noted the Chilkat Center, where she was broadcasting from, was above 100 feet. Chip said, "let's go."
We dressed quickly, and he grabbed a bag and put some important papers and our passports in it. I took my phone and wallet.
Stoli called and asked where we should meet, and I said the Chilkat Center parking lot. At Betty's, I banged on the door, and hoped I didn't frighten her, and when she appeared in her bathrobe, I told her what was happening, and apologized if I was making too much of this, but she said it was better to be safe than sorry. While she dressed, I found her cane, purse, and pills, and shoveled her steps. The driving was a challenge in the all the unplowed snow.
We pulled in the empty parking lot of the Chilkat Center and I texted Margaret,and she texted back that she could let us in, but there were only two other people there. It wasn't a party or anything.
Betty and the dogs and I were comfortable in the car, watching the snow fall, and listening to a BBC feature on female circumcision (or trying not to), with updates on the tsunami warnings from Margaret. By now it was 3:15. Stoli and Nels and their kids and dog were parked next to us and Chip was on the other side. I texted my daughter out in Unalaska where sirens were blaring, and she and her husband were up on a hill top in their truck, too. Safe and waiting. On the radio, Margaret announced that there was no danger or evacuation in Juneau, where my other daughters are in a house high on a hill, at the south end of Lynn Canal, and there was no danger in Skagway at the north end either, but Haines emergency responders were taking an "abundance of caution" and checking with state officials before giving us the all clear.
"I'm sorry I woke you, Betty."
"That's okay. It's better to be sure."
"And that I don't have any coffee or anything."
On the radio, Margaret said the police would let us know what to do by 3:30.
I asked Betty if she recalled other evacuations in Haines, and she couldn't. "Even 1964?" That was the big one, but she came to Alaska in 1973.
"This is a first for me," she said. She did know that her house was 50 feet above sea level, though.
From the Aleutians, my daughter texted that cars were driving back down to town and that there hadn't been a tsunami. Shortly after, Margaret said it was all over.
"Well, that was exciting," Betty said when I dropped her off. She was up for the day now.
I walked the dogs down to the beach. The inlet sounded louder, but I couldn't see if it was any higher than usual, maybe it was the ice and slush in the waves. I thought about the tsunami in Sri Lanka that killed so many people and caused such destruction, and the terrible one closer to home in Valdez and Kodiak in 1964. At my daughter's house, the car doors closed and they carried sleepy children back to bed. The reading light in our room came on upstairs, and I could see Chip in the window. I took a deep breath of the clear fresh air, said a little thank you for this peace, and this calm, and whistled for the dogs. My heart was light to have survived the drill, and to have passed a kind of test on what was really important. Family, neighbors, friends, and dogs. I felt a twinge of guilt that I had left the chickens so easily, but I'll bring them treats this morning. It's a beautiful day.
Oh, and the truck in our driveways? That was Mark from the harbor, driving door-to-door, Nels said. "He's wary of dogs is all. And I told him you knew already."