Post 42 — Surf’s Up! (Part 2)

nefertiti_catKaren threw herself down in the sand and immediately started sobbing and stammering something about titties. The older girls were confused because Kathy was the only one close to puberty, but then it occurred to them that she was talking about their cat. Nefertiti was a majestic Siamese given the name of an Egyptian empress; unfortunately, the children had shortened her name to Titi. The empress had just had a litter of six and the fact that they could be underwater soon made the girls momentarily forget their fears for themselves. They ran to check on the kittens to make sure everyone was warm and dry.

A car came roaring up to the house and they realized that their neighbor had not abandoned them to face the rising tides alone. She had run back to her house to get her car and two children. It was a tight fit to get five more kids in the back of a Datsun, so tight that the cats had to be left behind to fend for themselves. As the car took off, the girls were not only scared but also pretty sure they had condemned the six kits and their mom to a watery grave.

Mrs. Grant seemed to know exactly where to go, as if she had mapped out an emergency evacuation plan for any natural disaster. There was only one paved road on the island and she took the curves fast as they headed toward the mountain. The asphalt ended and she continued up a dirt road until they reached a flat area where the water tower stood. They were only about a third of the way up the mountain but it was certainly better than the top of the packing crate. There were a few cars already parked there and as they tumbled out of the Datsun, they saw friends and neighbors who had somehow known that this was the place to be when you wanted higher ground. The atmosphere was light as people milled about, making jokes to ease the tension. The girls were still worrying about the cats when it occurred to them that they had no idea where their parents were, so they stopped worrying about the kittens and started trying to figure out where they would live when they were orphans.

The discussion hadn’t progressed much beyond the agreement that they should try to be kept together although it would be okay if Karen was sent somewhere else because she wouldn’t stop whining when their parent’s car pulled into the gravel lot. Apparently reports of a potentially destructive tsunami had come into the television studio first and word had spread throughout the island. Jean and Larry had rushed back to Tafuna and discovered the house empty. Although quite worried that all of their children had disappeared, they had the foresight to gather up the cat and her family and put them in the back of the car. They also brought a case of Fanta orange pop because if you’re going to go through a natural disaster, it’s important to be well-hydrated.

As word got out, more people started moving up the mountain. Neighbors showed up in groups, their cars filled with bizarre items that indicated that no one was really certain what to save when your house was in immediate danger of being washed away. Alcohol seemed to be the most treasured family heirloom and an impromptu party broke out. The kids, all with orange Fanta moustaches, played tag and passed the kittens around until the cats probably wished they had been left to drown. The girls realized they had missed a golden opportunity to perform selections from “Flower Drum Song” for this captive audience, but all of their costumes were back in the crate and possibly underwater. The adults socialized uneasily, and waited and watched to see what the sea would do.

Which turned out to be . . . not much. After a few hours of sitting in the sun, people came to the conclusion that it was a false alarm and started to drift back to their homes. Later that evening, more reports came over the radio that the predicted tsunami had forced the evacuation of 150,000 people from the low areas of Hawaii. The waves were rumored to be coming from the north, although none of them materialized. The Coast Guard was monitoring the reports with plans to order everyone back to higher ground should it be necessary.

It wasn’t necessary. The waves hit around 3 am. The first one was two inches high and the second one was 6 inches. Chrissie could never figure out how they measured them. Was someone standing on the beach with a ruler? How did they know the waves were the result of the tsunami and not normal surf? She never quite got the answers to those questions but she did find out that there had been two previous evacuations to the mountains in the previous year. The neighbors with the game plan had clearly had some practice.

SamoanFales_tidalwaveThe tsunami false alarm left a strong impression on Chrissie. Some kids fantasize about monsters in the closet; hers were lurking out in the bay. Many nights she would lie awake in her bed and wonder what would happen if a real tidal wave were to hit. She could imagine the wave crashing over her head, crushing her as she struggled and gasped for air. She got into the habit of checking to see if it was high tide before bedtime because Liz had told her that it could only happen at low tide. This was completely untrue but it helped her feel better. Since tsunamis are generated under water by earthquakes, the pull of the tide has nothing to do with it. Still, when the beach was covered and the waves were rolling in, Chrissie would snuggle down in her little bed, gritty with sand because she had forgotten to wash her feet, content in the knowledge that, at least for the next six hours, she was safe.

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