Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tsunami Worries

Yesterday was a strange day. I turned the Today show on while getting ready for Jazzercise and heard the news of the Chilean earthquake. It measured 8.8 on the Richter Scale, 500 times more powerful than the earthquake that struck Haiti last month, and number 5 on the list of most powerful earthquakes ever measured. I shook my head in disbelief as I brushed my teeth, wondering what we'd done to piss Mother Nature off so thoroughly.

The news that followed stopped me in my tracks. Scientists had data indicating a tsunami had been generated by the earthquake, and Hawaii was in its path. My dad and stepmom were in Hawaii.

Although, my dad is well-traveled, having been to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and all over the continental United States, he'd never been to Hawaii. Bruce and I have been to Hawaii twice, once on our honeymoon and again five years ago with the boys when Bruce was invited to coach in an all-star tournament. Hawaii is a gorgeous, magical place. You step out of reality when you're there. Lush and tropical, everything about it is wonderfully exotic. Even the air feels different on your skin and in your lungs.

Thinking of Hawaii as a frightening place is just wrong. Intellectually, I know it's a volcanic island chain, created by the kind of seismic upheaval that wreaked havoc in Chile. I've visited the volcanoes, both active and dormant. It didn't really register. In my mind, Hawaii has always been paradise. But for a few anxiety-riddled hours yesterday, Hawaii was that place where Pele rules, and an angry sea could reclaim what was originally hers.

At 4:00 Eastern time, my family was glued to the TV. We switched between CNN and MSNBC, watching Hilo Bay with a mixture of dread and morbid curiosity. Our only real frame of reference was the Christmas tsunami in Indonesia. My eldest watched the surfers, still in the water, repeatedly commenting on their stupidity. My youngest asked lots of questions about buildings and their ability to withstand the massive surge the graphic artists kept depicting. We knew dad was on the 6th floor of his resort. We listened to the commentators fill time as a whole lot of nothing happened.

Eventually, my boys drifted out of the room. My youngest asked me several times if everything was okay. Dad called me around 6:00 to tell me they were fine and would probably make their evening flight out. He said the scientists should have paid more attention to the whales. They were in very close to the shore all afternoon. When Dad saw the whales, he felt like everything would be okay.

The science of tsunami prediction is still inexact. I'm glad they were wrong yesterday. Lost in my day of worry were the people of Chile. Dad reminded me when I talked to him. My stepmom works with a nun, Sister Ruth Gehres, who is on mission in Chile. The focus of her work is helping single moms and women who want to start their own businesses. As of late yesterday, they still hadn't heard from her.

Planet Earth is dynamic and changing. We forget that most of the time, caught up in the minutia of our lives. Yesterday, I was pulled out of my tunnel vision for a few hours. The people of Chile and Haiti will live with their reminder for years.

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