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Transportation officials toiled to ensure safety during alert

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There aren’t a lot of reporters in the world who can say they’ve covered a tsunami. In just more than a year, I’ve covered two.

Lucky I live Hawaii? You bet, considering the state could’ve seen far more damaging waves than we did last week or last year.

It was a long night for us reporters, but also for our local government workers. City Transportation Serv­ices Director Wayne Yoshi­oka spent the whole night at the Emergency Operations Center under the Frank Fasi Municipal Building. One of the first things he did was call Oahu Transit Serv­ices, which runs TheBus, to ready buses to evacuate people

One of the problematic areas was the Wai­anae Coast. Once the alarms started to ring, Farrington Highway, the Leeward Coast’s main thoroughfare, became congested. Three buses were in Wai­anae and leaving would’ve worsened the traffic.

"We told them to stay there," Yoshi­oka says. "What we ended up doing was going to Keaau Beach, picking up some of the homeless there and bringing them up to Nana­kuli High School." Other buses also picked up residents from other shoreline areas, like the Hau Bush area of Ewa Beach.

An hour before the first waves hit our shores, inundation zones were blocked off from incoming traffic. That didn’t stop some drivers from getting out of their cars and moving the barricades themselves. Yoshi­oka saw one lolo do this in Waikiki on the traffic cameras and informed police, who were able to turn the driver away in time.

The tsunami warning lit up electronic signs along the freeway to warn late-night commuters. But the state Transportation Department’s biggest effort was making sure the airports were still open to ensure all incoming flights could land safely.

"The duty managers were phenomenal. They’re kind of like the mayors of the airports," said state Department of Transportation spokes­man Dan Mei­sen­zahl.

The state Transportation Department also worked with the Hawaii Tourism Authority to ensure that no Japanese visitors left Waikiki to head to the airport, only to be left stranded by canceled flights.

Meisenzahl said the state was lucky the tsunami event happened at night, when there were next to no flights at the airports, and that the freeways were clear.

Meisenzahl is no stranger to working during a crisis (he was a veteran KITV reporter and anchor), but he’s new to this current job.

"My meeting on what to do in case of a natural disaster is in a couple of weeks," he said. "I haven’t even had that meeting yet!"

He said he was impressed by the local government effort. I say he’s not the only one. Despite all the stress that a tsunami can bring, it sounds like our road rage was tempered at least for that night.


Gene Park can be reached at email on Twitter as @GenePark.

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