HALEIWA – The big wave never arrived. But a series of small and powerful surges – as many as 20 – pushed muddy water from the tsunami through the Haleiwa Boat Harbor early this morning.
When the water receded, some of the boats tied up in the inside basin were resting in mud. When the water rushed back, the boats rocked and rolled with the churn. On the fourth surge, portions of a floating dock buckled and snapped away from the embankment.
"Just a tremendous amount of water came in, and you could hear it," Paul Sensano, the harbormaster, said of the crumbling dock. "You could hear it crackling. Crack. Crack. Crack."
The floating dock, which is less expensive than a traditional concrete dock, was designed with a tsunami in mind. The dock is supposed to bend and not break. But it broke today, while an older concrete dock nearby survived intact.
With the advance warning about the tsunami last night, boat captains had plenty of time to assess whether to keep their vessels in the shelter of the harbor and hope for a ripple or go out to sea and avoid the potential impact zone.
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Fred Chun took the Lia C, a 32-foot fishing boat named for his daughter – his "bag of diamonds" – out to sea before the tsunami hit.
His slip on the floating dock was destroyed.
"If I didn’t,`Oh, man,’" he said, looking at the damage this morning. "It would probably still be tied up, but I bet it would be pretty busted up."
Dave Borgman took the Foxy Lady, a 42-foot charter boat, out to sea. His slip was gone, too.
"If we would have been right there," he said, pointing to the empty spot, "we would have been screwed."
Daniel Aitchison was at the harbor last night to check on a friend’s boat, the 35-foot Kini, and decided after consulting with his friend that it was probably better to leave it tied up loosely to the floating dock.
"We’ve come down to see that the dock is destroyed, and the piece where we’re on is perfectly fine. You can’t get luckier than that," he said, visualizing the stress on the dock and the boats that stayed in the harbor.
"She’s sitting 100 percent perfect, so that’s just unbelievable," he said.
At one point between the surges, Sensano, the harbormaster, called into KSSK to describe what he was witnessing after hearing accounts on the radio about minimal impact in other parts of the island. But he had to quickly get off the phone, he told the hosts, because water had jumped the embankment and was flowing under his office.
"I’ll put it this way. The damage could have been greater," he said this morning. "But it was not. No vessels were lost. No lives were lost. So we’re thankful for that much.
"Now we’ve got to just pick up, clean up, and move on."