Kaua‘i officials urge residents to prepare for emergencies

In the wake of yesterday’s earthquake, officials on Kaua‘i are urging residents to draft and practice evacuation plans as a precaution against future emergencies.

The 6.6 magnitude earthquake rattled Kaua‘i — more than 400 miles away — at 7:07 a.m. Several injuries but no fatalities were reported near the epicenter 10 miles northwest of Kailua Kona on the Big Island.

Early national news reports said Kaua‘i was part of a statewide power and phone service outage, but no such outages on the island were reported.

Officials said there was no risk of a tsunami, but warned residents to use the quake as a reminder to always be prepared.

While neither the state nor county has an official evacuation plan because of liability issues, residents should look to those resources to get tips to devise a plan of their own, said Alfred Darling, spokesman for the Kaua‘i Red Cross.

And residents need to think beyond evacuating, Darling said.

“If you’re living along the shore and your plan is to get into your car and drive to higher ground, you need to remember there’s going to be gridlock,” he said.

Because of that, savvy plans could include bicycling or walking to an area that has higher ground. FEMA recommends an elevation that is at least 100 feet.

Also, residents should have a plan that extends beyond what to do if the emergency happens while they are at home, but also while they are at work, school or running errands, he said.

“The bottom line is, it matters not where you live, but where you are when it happens,” he said. “If you live in the Homesteads, you may think you don’t need a plan, but if you walk on property close to the water, you need to think about how you would evacuate if you needed to.”

That includes having a plan in place that takes into account how family members would meet without cell phones or electricity, he said.

“Have a written agreement of where you would go and how, and practice your plan,” he said.

Mark Marshall, the Kaua‘i Civil Defense administrator, said that in the case of a tsunami, the most important part of staying safe is awareness.

“If we’re talking about the hazard of a tsunami, we first need to figure out where we are in relationship to that threat at any given time, and ask ourselves: ‘Do I live near the ocean? A river affected by the ocean? Am I in an evacuation zone?’ ” Marshall said.

To find out if you live in an evacuation zone, turn to the front of the Yellow Pages, he said.

However, most people know if they are in an evacuation zone because they are required to pay federal flood insurance.

Regardless of where you live, have a checklist: “Turn off the power, pick up the kids,” he said.

After determining what emergency items to have on hand, buy items you like.

“Buy non-perishable things you would eat everyday,” he said. “We eat the oldest stuff in the cabinet and keep replenishing stuff in the front, so we have a month’s worth of food for the whole family.”

Part of having a good evacuation plan also is knowing what to respond to, such as TV and radio warnings, Marshall said. The EAS siren system is tested at 11:45 a.m. on the first workday of each month, he said.

If there is enough time, civil air patrol will fly along the coast warning kayakers and fisherman to get away, with flashing red and blue lights, broadcasting that a tsunami is approaching and to get away from the shore, he said.

If an earthquake on the Big Island were to generate a tsunami, it could travel to Kaua‘i in as quickly as 20 to 25 minutes, Marshall said, which doesn’t leave residents who don’t have a plan enough time to create one.

“If a destructive wave’s coming, people need to go to high ground without wasting any time — just grabbing everyone and getting out,” he said.

However, those who are prepared would have plenty of time to do what they need to, he said.

“We’re fortunate here. We have a quick elevation rise from the ocean,” he said. “Simply come to Rice Street, and you’re over 100 feet.”

The worst-case scenario would be a mega-tsunami, not related to an earthquake but generated by a large piece of rock or landslide falling into the ocean, creating a large wave, up to 4,000 feet.

The most recent mega-tsunami happened in 1963, after the destabilization of a mountain valley in Italy. A slab from the side of Monte Toc slid into a reservoir, emptying 50 percent of its water within 10 minutes, creating a 820-foot wave that killed nearly 2,000 people.

Much smaller than a mega-tsunami was the Indian Ocean earthquake Dec. 26, 2004, that created a 90-foot wave, Marshall said. That earthquake created a tsunami that killed nearly 200,000 people.

For a mega-tsunami to happen in Hawai‘i, land as large as the Moloka‘i sea cliffs would have to collapse into the water, he said, which would cause, in theory, enough water to bury the highest point of Kaua’i, which is just under a mile high, at about 5,200 feet.

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