Once in a while we’re reminded that we live on a tiny rock in the middle of the Pacific. Yesterday was one of those days. Chile, on a continent far away, suffered an 8.8 earthquake as we headed to bed, and we awoke well before dawn to the sobering reality of a potentially devastating tsunami barreling our way.
We go through the drills regularly; the civil defense sirens are tested monthly and even the youngest children know to cover their ears and it’ll end soon. Everyone I know has batteries, flashlights, water, sleeping bags and a radio in an emergency kit; the computers are routinely backed up and the important papers are all kept together. We keep our phones charged, our gas tanks reasonably full, and a bit of cash on hand just in case. We know our infrastructure is tenuous; phone lines crash every time there’s a heavy rain and the power can mysteriously go out when five people sneeze simultaneously around the state. The possibility of devastation always looms, perhaps as a part of subconscious life, but we’re island people, and we consider it part of the price of paradise.
This time, however, it wasn’t a drill. By the time the civil defense sirens began blaring at 6AM — this time, for real — we were already in high gear. Lines at gas stations and supermarkets had queued up in the wee morning hours. Supermarkets quickly posted signs rationing Spam, a local favorite that deserves its own blog report at another time. Ringing phones up and down the street pierced the quiet morning air, and neighbors gathered on the street to compare notes, strategies and supplies. Friends checked on friends. It was quiet, deliberate, kind and calm. It was unlike any emergency I’ve ever known.
For us, we gathered the things that mattered — personal papers, a change of clothes, some food, water and supplies, and our 2 dogs and our cat — and headed to higher ground. We took an assessment of our treasures — kids special art projects, photos, collections, our beloved Bandit’s ashes, special travel mementos — and moved them upstairs, just in case. With our neighbor and dear friend Julie, and our new friends (until now strangers simply staying in a rental cabana for a few days) we took refuge in a client’s hillside home, where peacocks roam the conservation lands just beyond the back yard. We nibbled on cheese, chips and chili, sipped a bit of wine, and waited. Our animal menagerie settled into their kennels, nestled just outside the front door and within earshot. We knew we were blessed, and that our “evacuation” bore little resemblance to the images typically conjured by the word. Yet the fear and the unknown was palatable. What would happen? Would our homes still be there? Would our island suffer the same devastation of southeast Asia, just a few years ago?
It came. It rolled in, sucking out the water then rolling back in…enough to know it was there, but not enough to make a difference. We’d been spared. We’d dodged the bullet. As one client put it so well . . . what happened, and what could have happened, an incredibly fine line. Like everyone, we obediently waited for the all-clear, tidied up the home where we’d taken shelter, packed up the car, and headed back to the beach, back home. We joined our neighbors on our stretch of beach, just to make sure our “home” was really okay. We celebrated; we exhaled.
All the emergency supplies are back in the plastic bins and the cupboards, until next time. Life has quickly returned to normal, restaurants re-opened, and the all-day news gave way to the Olympics. It’s almost as though nothing happened . . . almost. We walk our beautiful, calm beach and say a silent prayer for our friends in Chile, not quite so lucky.