The tsunami from Japan flooded a number of buildings in Hawaii, sweeping away cars and destroying at least three homes, but the state escaped deaths and injuries, authorities said.
The worst reports came from the western side of the island of Hawaii, but residents breathed a sigh of relief at the lack of further damage.
“I think we dodged the bullet this time,” said 79-year-old Marylou Adams, who lives on the eastern side of the Big Island.
The first tsunami waves reached Kauai shortly after 3 a.m. Friday and took about 30 minutes to sweep through the island chain, said Dailin Wang, an oceanographer with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Waves above 6 feet were recorded at Kahului on Maui and 3 feet at Haleiwa on the north shore of Oahu.
Officials had ordered an evacuation of the state’s coastal areas about six hours earlier. Warning sirens sounded throughout the night and long lines formed at gas stations and convenience stores. Police drove through coastal neighborhoods using loud hailers to instruct residents to move to higher ground or seek shelter at centers set up at schools, parks and community centers.
The evacuation zone included the Oahu resort area of Waikiki, where high-rise hotels line the beachfront. Guests were moved to higher floors for safety, but Jason and Lacey Harder decided they weren’t going to take any chances.
“We had our bags packed in five minutes and headed for the airport to get the first flight out,” said Jason Harder, 33, who was on vacation with his 28-year-old wife and two friends from Canada. “But it was taking too long to get there, so we said let’s just head for higher ground.”
The four ended up at a refuge area set up at the Le Jardin Academy in Kailua on the eastern edge of the island of Oahu. They slept on the floor of a bright, noisy gymnasium, while nearby a few children played with balls and hoola hoops. Other evacuees walked their dogs or slept in their cars in the predawn darkness.
At about 7 a.m., the evacuees were told that roads were beginning to open up and they could head home. Within a few hours, the tsunami warning had been lifted for Hawaii.