The tsunami warning Saturday, February 27th resulted in little more than empty gas stations and water-less supermarkets. The streets of Waikiki turned eerily vacant, and traffic jammed as people in coastal areas fled to higher ground. All those "crazy" surfers who defied authorities probably had the best surf session of their lives, riding perfectly-peeling waves all by themselves.
Luckily for the islands, the tsunami's highest wave was a little higher than 3 ft in Kahului, Maui. On Oahu, air raids started blaring at 6 am and continued almost hourly until 11 am. Hilo, Hawaii was the first place the tsunami reached after spanning the Pacific Ocean from Chile. Residents and tourists, alike, sat on the edges of their seats, fixated on TV screens. All local news channels showed a blurry shot of Hilo Bay and Coconut Island receiving the first tsunami waves. Viewers squinted to see the ebb and flow of the tide as it covered and then uncovered the reef in a matter of minutes. That's as thrilling as it got.
Most people were dually disappointed and relieved with the outcome. Of course, nobody wanted to endure flood damage. On the other hand, having lost sleep from middle-of-the-night phone calls from loved ones, and having scurried around town for emergency supplies, many wanted to feel that their actions had more importance than being "better safe than sorry."
The last tsunami disaster in Hawaii occurred in 1960 in Hilo and killed 61 people. Fifty years later, detection technologies have advanced, but not as much as one would think. In fact, merely 5 years ago, there were no tsunami buoys between Chile and Hawaii. Scientists have strategically placed tsunami buoys across the Pacific whose purpose is to record fluctuating water pressure that could indicate a tsunami. The data is sent to computers where authorities analyze it using advanced modeling techniques.
A buoy a few hundred miles off the coast of Peru was the first to record the tsunami racing towards Hawaii at 400 miles per hour. Models show, however, that the majority of the tsunami's energy passed south of Hawaii and dodged the state like a bullet. The newest models still have glitches, so authorities say they had no choice but to evacuate low-lying coastal areas.
Hawaii locals have listened to numerous tsunami watches and warnings. Unfortunately, many are so accustomed to these warnings with no dangerous outcome that their attitudes remain apathetic. A legitimate disaster will occur at some point and this mindset won't assuage the outcome.
See the links below for more on the tsunami.