Archived Story

Former Albert Lean faces tsunami

Published 3:03pm Saturday, March 12, 2011

Just a few days ago, Tyler Thomsen was watching a show about tsunamis on the History Channel.

He never imagined he’d be living through one by the end of the week.

“Maybe it’s kind of like a warning sign,” he said Friday morning. “It’s just unbelievable it happened the very next day. I guess everything happens for a reason.”

Thomsen moved to Maui, Hawaii, in December. He’s a former Albert Lean whose grandparents, Jim and Lois Verdoorn, live in Albert Lea.

Tsunami waves swamped Hawaii beaches and brushed the U.S. western coast early Friday but didn’t immediately cause major damage after devastating Japan and sparking evacuations throughout the Pacific Rim.

As of 6:30 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian Time, (10:30 a.m. Central Standard Time) on Friday, Thomsen was fine, still in “shut-down,” meaning he was unable to leave his house.

The tsunami warning lifted about 7:15 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian Time Friday, but Thomsen couldn’t really survey many damages, as most of the roads were closed for vehicle use.

“I live on the south side, and the worst parts that got hit are on the north and west side,” Thomsen said. “When it rains, it floods a lot so I can’t imagine what it looks like there.”

He said pretty much all of the businesses were closed for the day on Friday, including his employer, Bank of Hawaii.

While waves 7 feet high were recorded on Maui, Thomsen didn’t have to evacuate his house because he’s exactly half a mile from the oceanfront, in an elevated area.

“We’re pretty safe for now,” he said, adding that the aftershocks were creating a lot of waves.

Kauai was the first of the Hawaiian islands hit by the tsunami, which was caused by an earthquake in Japan, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said. Water rushed ashore in Honolulu, covering Waikiki Beach and surging over a break wall in the world-famous resort area but stopping short of the high-rise hotels.

Waves about 3 feet high were recorded in Oahu and Kauai. Officials warned that the waves would continue and could become larger, but a scientist at the tsunami warning center said it didn’t appear that they would cause major damage in Hawaii.

Thomsen said before the “shut down” went into effect Thursday night, everybody was packing gas stations and grocery stores to make sure their cars were filled with gas and water jugs full. He said the cars had to be filled with gas in case they were instructed to evacuate their homes, which would mean going to the mountains in Maui or the Haleakala volcano. Water was important because living on an island, if the main source of water is damaged or destroyed, there’s not much officials can do, so it was best to be prepared for the worst.

“It was very, very, very intense,” he said. “Being from Minnesota, I’ve never seen anything like it, so I was pretty nervous.”

Thomsen said it’s not uncommon to get tsunami warnings, but in the four years his roommates have lived there, they’ve never seen a warning of this magnitude come through.

The tsunami, spawned by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan, slammed the eastern coast of Japan, sweeping away boats, cars, homes and people as widespread fires burned out of control. Overall, the country’s official death toll stood at 574 on Saturday, although media reports in Sendai, Japan, said at least 1,300 people may have been killed. The tsunami raced across the Pacific at 500 mph — as fast as a jetliner — though tsunami waves roll into shore at normal speeds.

On the West Coast

After the tsunami hit Hawaii, people along the Pacific Coast were bracing for the first round of waves to hit. Bryce Gaudian of Albert Lea was driving down by Malibu Beach in California at about 7:30 a.m. PST Friday when he heard the news.

He and a friend were driving to catch a ferry to the Catalina Islands, where Gaudian was planning to run a charity marathon on Saturday. He said aside from several people lined up on Malibu Beach looking out over the ocean, he really hadn’t heard much buzz about it at that point.

Aside from a slight delay at the Long Beach ferry terminal at 9:30 a.m. PST, Gaudian said the mood seemed fine.

“People were thrilled to hear that the ferry’s not going to cancel,” he said. “We’ve got about 1,000 people running the marathon that need to get over there.”

Other local reaction

Four Seasons Travel owner David Nelson said Friday morning his staff had not heard any reports of problems with any of his customers in Hawaii.

He noted, however, that the company did have a Panama Canal cruise with at least 50 local residents on board under way on Friday. The cruise was scheduled to go through the canal Friday, so they should be safe.

“But it would have been an issue a week ago,” he said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.