Hawaiian destinations shuttered over tsunami

The port of Honolulu was also closed

By Christopher Elliott
|  Saturday, Feb 27, 2010  |  Updated 4:30 PM PDT
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Hawaiian Destinations Shuttered over Tsunami

AP

Terry A of Honolulu talks to a friend on his cell phone after loading up a pickup truck with surfboards on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010. Star Beachboys, the owner of the surfboards, removed them from the beach because of a tsunami warning in effect for the Hawaii, after the earthquake of Chile. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

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Part of Hawaii’s tourism infrastructure was shut down due to the tsunami that resulted from the powerful 8.8-magnitude earthquake that rattled Chile early Saturday.

Hilo International Airport, on the east side of the Island of Hawaii, closed in advance of the approaching wave. The airport is primarily used by interisland airlines. Other shuttered tourist attractions included the Honolulu Zoo, the Japanese Cultural Center, the Polynesian Cultural Center, Waikiki Aquarium and Wet N Wild Hawaii Waterpark.

“So far there is no damage to anything,” said George Applegate, the executive director of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, moments after the first wave hit. “We just want to monitor the waves for several hours.”

The port of Honolulu was also closed in advance of the tsunami.

Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of America was scheduled to dock in Honolulu early Saturday, but will remain at sea until the Port of Honolulu reopens. “While at sea, this situation does not in any way compromise the safety and security of our passengers and crew,” NCL said in a statement. “Pride of America should be alongside shortly after that and we expect that the next cruise will depart later this evening.” The cruise line expects the port will reopen at 5 p.m.

“It’s quiet,” said Tim Lussier, a student at Hawai`i Pacific University, who was waiting in Waikiki for the first wave to come ashore. “All the streets are closed. Everything is fine — so far.”

Whether the wave is a significant event or not, the effects of the tsunami are likely to be felt for a long time to come.

“Hawaii has a history of dangerous wave action,” said Michael Brein, a former Oahu resident and travel psychology expert. “Everyone who lives there has it in the back of their minds that they really have to pay attention.”

Historically, visitors have not been as aware of the potential for a deadly wave, although after the Asian tsunami in 2004, tourists have become more conscious of the hazards. “This time, tourists are excited and a little scared. I think everyone knows how dangerous it could be,” he said.

Some current visitors to the island will likely be displaced by the wave, according to longtime Honolulu resident and tourism expert Jeanne Datz Rice. Hotels in low-lying areas normally evacuate guests to higher rooms. “They’re moved up three floors,” she said, adding, “In a situation like this, everyone makes new friends.”

Officials hope the publicity churned up by the tsunami won’t affect tourism, which is struggling to recover from the recession. “There is no reason to cancel your visit,” said Applegate of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.

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