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Nervous Citizen, Media, Civil Defense Officials Await A Potentially Destructive Tsunami Threatening Hawaii

Aired February 27, 2010 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And speaking of tourism, our own Thelma Gutierrez was vacationing with her family on the big island. Her family has now made their way to higher ground, the hillier side of the big island. She is joining us right now.

You're still at the Hilton, correct, where you and the family were staying?

THEMLA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's correct, Fredricka. As a matter of fact, we're right off the Kohala Coast which is Waikoloa Village which is about 30 minutes or so north of Kona Kailua.

I just wanted to let you know that I talked to Israel Gonzalez who is the -- he's a local DJ, but he is sitting in the war room with the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency. And he was telling me that the air is so thick in there, the tension is so thick, you can actually cut it with a knife. He says all the public safety officials are in that war room in Hilo and they're watching monitors, they're looking at screens. They have various cameras that they're monitoring the feeds from that have been positioned at resorts around the island. And so you've got the fire chief there. You have all the public safety officials who are sitting in that war room and they're watching the feeds -- live feeds -- looking at the ocean. They're also looking at various monitors, things like that.

Now, Israel was telling me that there is a water break around the Hilo harbor that goes a mile out and that they're hoping that that'll actually protect the harbor. There's no way to know because it depends, of course, on that swell of water, that continuous swell that is expected to hit land within the next few minutes. But he says there are lots of people in there right now. All the public safety officials. The mayor is actually above us right now, in a helicopter that's circling the island, you know, monitoring the situation from above.

So, we just wanted to let you know what was going on on the other side --on the Hilo side-- where this thing is expected to hit in a few minutes.

WHITFIELD: So a couple of things, Thelma.

The Hilo side, traditionally, you know, very rainy. It's low lying, right in the little downtown area. The expectation is this tsunami would hit that area first. Any idea whether that has been completely evacuated? Are you aware of how people are, you know, have been able to prepare or get out of potential harm's way?

GUTIERREZ: Yes. Israel told me that early this morning they had people out there making sure that all the folks who were in the low lying areas were moved out. The sirens were going off. They had public safety officials. We've seen many police going up and down the coast making sure to get people out of those homes, especially, Fredricka, the elderly and the people who might not have vehicles to move out of that area.

So they're all taking this very seriously, making sure that what happened in 1967 doesn't repeat itself. They're keeping their fingers crossed that that water break that, you know, out in the ocean, will protect the harbor. No way to know that right now.

WHITFIELD: Now, I realize, you know, you're at the Hilton Waikoloa, have you had a chance to see whether the roadways, those that are still open have become the parking lots similar to the road that we just saw on the island of Oahu where people have gone to higher ground?

GUTIERREZ: I can tell you that in this particular stretch where I am on the coast, the police have closed this entire highway down. This is a main road that takes you up and down the coast and then up into the Waimea. And then across over to the (INAUDIBLE) of the island. That whole area has been closed. We have not seen a parking lot out there. Because they're not letting people into this area.

Conversely, people who are here at Kingsland and you know, in some of the resorts along the coast, they have not been able to leave. So you have many people who are basically (INAUDIBLE) waiting to see what happens. Again, there is not a fear that this huge, you know, wave will come and hit once. The concern is that the continuous surge of water that can hit some of these low lying areas.

So people are kind of sitting around waiting it out. Many folks were planning to leave to day and they said if you have to get strapped somewhere, not a bad place to be.

WHITFIELD: Right. All right. Thelma Gutierrez, thanks so much. Joining us from the big island there. We want to welcome our international viewers on CNN International. Thelma Gutierrez is actually vacationing on the big island with her family. And now, just minutes away, the expectation is the first wave of the tsunami which has been spawned by that earthquake in Chile will be hitting the big island on the Hilo side.

You're looking at live pictures right now. Thanks to our affiliate KITV. This is Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu. Let's listen in on their live coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They need to get him or her out of there.

So it's about 11:05 and we're awaiting to hear from our reporter on the big island to hear back if we've seen any waves there. We're expecting six to seven foot waves hitting generally the Hilo area mainly because of Hilo harbor and the bay there. Six to seven foot waves, about 20 minutes apart and that first one is expected to hit any time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we're now -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're now hearing the sirens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're hearing the sirens on Oahu going off right now. I wanted to ask, Justin a question. You know, whenever we get a tsunami warning from Asia, it's usually from the Japan area or around the Philippines. And they come in twos or threes. There will be an earthquake. There will be an after shock. We just don't know that much about earthquakes coming from the east. Because the last one as Dr. Becker (ph) said was 40 years ago.

And we don't know very much about that fault as well. Is there a possibility that these also come in waves?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a possibility. Any time you have an earthquake that is called a trigger events that kind of spawned more earthquakes. I can't correspond this to anything. But we did have an earthquake on the other side of the Pacific, just about 24 hours ago that was in Okinawa. I don't know if can you hear this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is an audio - that is the alarm from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. We're patched down into their audio. So that is the alarm going off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This looks like its - is this (INAUDIBLE) highway?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) ... which is right across from the beach actually, (INAUDIBLE) Beach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an interesting shot there at (INAUDIBLE) Beach park, one of the famous beach parks in the south of the island.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is very eerie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justin (ph), we talked about that Okinawan earthquake yesterday and all eyes were whether that was going to generate a tsunami. At first there was an advisory that went out and it was quickly pulled away. So it was really a shocker last night when we were working here in the newsroom. Just hours later, we hear this 8.5 and upgraded to 8.8 with Chile and realizing that some type of earthquake had been generated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We now have Paul Drewes (ph), reporting from the big island. Paul, what can you tell us?

PAUL DREWES, KITV4 NEWS REPORTER: Well, I can tell you it's very loud now. I don't know if can you hear the sirens. I'm going ahead and step inside just so that way it won't be quite so noisy. The only sounds out here are helicopters that continue to circle overhead and the warning sirens. They've been sounding on and off every couple of minutes just to let anyone know that in the coastal areas to evacuate, to get out of the area.

They should have been cleared out there. There are police patrolling the area to make sure it's clear. But they keep sounding the sirens to make sure everyone knows that the waves are on the way. We still haven't seen any sign of the waves, at least any visible sign of the waves. We're still looking very flat condition out in Hilo Bay. Very calm conditions at the Wailoa River. Very calm conditions all around Hilo.

Once again, many people are on roof tops and road signs watching and waiting for the waves to appear. And I was going to say, it's a really good thing that we have had so much notice. I know that we started letting people know about this last night. But because there is so much notice, it is such a beautiful day here in Hilo. It's hot and sunny. Many of the folks that I talked with said they outdoor plans and many would be at the pitch.

And so, if we didn't have all kinds of notice and such good warning system in place to let everyone know then people would still be at those beaches and possibly in danger as these tsunami waves hit Hilo. But once again, we're still waiting for those waves. No sign of any receding water along the coastline. We're waiting and watching. Just like everyone else here in Hilo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul, we saw somebody in the water here at Waikiki. Do you happen to see anybody out in about not only in the water but along the shoreline there in Hilo?

DREWES: No. No, we don't. We don't see anybody in the water here other than the sailboat. The number of sail boats that were harbored here, they cleared out just a little while ago and went out just past breakwater. So there is a line of sail boats on the outside of Hilo Nay. But nobody in is in the water. Police have done a very good job patrolling the area. And, again, the helicopters are overhead making sure that nobody is in the water.

We do see a boat in the Wailoa River. That is just inland of the Hilo Bay front area and of course, that was the area when the 1960 tsunami came in. That area that was so devastated by that tsunami. But there is one boat in the water right now. But again no sign of a wave. I'm not sure if that boat is coming in or coming out. They're going to try to get that boat out of the water. It's a small recreational boat.

But again, folks have stayed away from the coastline area at least here in Hilo and at least where we can see here at Hilo. People are staying out of the water which is a good sign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please stay on the line. We don't want to lose this connection in the next few minutes. So just stay on the line. We'll have producers talking to you.

DREWES: Sure. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thanks a lot, Paul.

A lot of people in Hilo taking this very seriously. Because they have been through this before. And for those of you who do not know Hilo, it is totally vulnerable, the bay, encompasses so much of the city. And the city is virtually on flatland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of that destruction caused by that 1960 tsunami right along the bay front there had been replaced by open park land, soccer fields are in that area. So we are hoping that that's our barrier now that we have created with the knowledge of the type of tsunami destruction that can be caused by these far distance earthquakes across the pacific.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at the destruction. And Paul talks about Waialua River and the tsunami, the water went all the away up through the rivers, up into part of the valley and then washing people away. So, yes, they take it very seriously on the big island. They've been through a number of tsunamis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems like every tsunami event that we have here or any destructive tsunami event that we've had here has had a profound impact on what is the second largest city in population here in the Hawaiian islands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A little earlier, we're taking a look from east Honolulu, looking out towards Port Luck. Totally abandoned. Usually on a Saturday afternoon you see canoes, a lot of boaters. Just, it's just naked out there. No one's going out in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is another good shot of Honolulu harbor that we saw earlier too were all the boats aren't there except for a couple of tugs here and there. Matson having taking the big barges out. Here we go. We see Honolulu Harbor. Matson, there's one -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That looks like there one is actually coming in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, this one is actually coming in. But most of the big boats all went out early this morning. They may be re-evaluating now that they've come to an idea of how big the waves are going to be. OK.

WHITFIELD: You've been listening to our affiliate coverage from KITV there in Honolulu. Let's listen in now to our other affiliate, KHON.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 11:04. It's now 11:11. So far, we're not able to tell that anything is developing. And I believe this Skype is from There is a pretty good vantage point. Let's get Mark Veneri (ph), back on the phone now. We'll keep this picture up just to keep a live shot of Hilo and see what's going on. Mark Veneri (ph), are you there?

VOICE OF MARK VENERI (ph): Yes, I am, Kirk (ph). I'm here. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything change?

VENERI (ph): All we can see out there right now is actually there's a little bit of discoloration in the water. But as far as we can see, there's a little bit receding. We heard reports from our camera in Coconut Island that actually the water is receding. But no waves yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that, of course, is the first indication that something's on the way. The only question now will be what happens once the water does begin to come back in. In fact, before the science was done when the water went out, a lot of people would go out on to the sand and the coral reefs and pick up fish and other sea creatures thinking that was a gift. It was food presented to them.

And then suddenly, of course, tragedy strikes when the wave returns, when the water returns to the shore. And we've heard stories of huge tidal waves that have swept away entire villages, families gone. So we'll keep an eye here. We'll keep looking through the Skype camera provided to us from Mark, what are the folks there saying? Are they just waiting anxiously?

VENERI (ph): We're just all waiting anxiously right now. The helicopters still circling. You know, it's a wait and see game. You know, I was just wondering out there is their camera angle good? Do you want me out of the picture or get more of Hilo Bay. You guys just let me know and I'll do my best over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're doing a great job, Mark. Just keep on stand by there. We're right now looking at another Skype camera. But you keep yours hot and we'll kind of follow along as you do to see what happens next. It's now 11:13 on a Saturday morning in paradise. Not a cloud in the sky there in Hilo. That in itself rather remarkable.

Beautiful day there. Once again, scientists estimated that the first tidal action would happen at about 11:04 in Hilo Bay. Of course, this is just for Hilo. There's a time frame for the rest of the islands. It was expected to arrive at 11:20 on Maui, at 11:35 here on Oahu and 11:50 this morning on Kauai. That time frame obviously is being adjusted by mother nature. Because it is almost 11:15 and we have yet to see any development there in Hilo Bay or off the coast of Hilo.

We're watching closely along with you through the auspices of the web site. They're providing us a Skype feed. Large apartment building there in the foreground. And that is Hilo Bay. As you can see, so far glistening waters. We have no word yet of any strong surge, although we did get some reports, Mark said, from folks who said the water appeared to be receding. We can't tell from this vantage point.

Mark, any more developments where you are?

VENERI (ph): We have no new developments over here. You know, we're just keeping an eye on the water. You know, very little action over here. As of right now, to me I guess everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that this wave doesn't hit over here in Hilo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good idea. Also people should know that it's an inexact science, as we said earlier. And that just because the expected time has passed and they believe that it's safe to get back on the low lying roads, for instance, and head to the store, not a good idea. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center will be giving us and you an all clear when it is all clear.

But until that time, probably a good idea to stay wherever you are. This is a shot right now of Ahalanui Beach Park. Absolutely uninhabited at this point in time. Civil defense and police have made sure that everyone is off the beaches. All the beaches are closed. Special efforts made to help out those people camping, especially on the leeward coast, people who might not have a place to go to make sure that they at least head to a shelter. At least headed to higher ground.

Once again, unable to tell whether there is any activity, whether the water is receding there in Hilo or coming ashore in any strong way. We're keeping our eyes open along with you to see what happens. It's now 11:16. And still no major activity as far as the ocean is concerned. This is the result of the watch that you are involved in.

As the result of an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile overnight. We have known about it for about quite some time, almost 12 hours. And that gave civil defense officials enough lead time to get up and running to make sure that all of the emergency preparedness activity was in place, that people knew or they had to go.

That the hotels housing our visitors and guests were informed so that they could take emergency action, make sure all of those visitors are safe. We are told that all the roads on all the islands, the low lying roads and all the islands have been closed off until the all clear is given by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The scientists out there keeping a close eye on this. And each time there is a tsunami, they learn more. They learn also that they don't know as much as they would like to know. We have no word yet on any real activity there in Hilo Bay. We're keeping that camera live for you so that you can be as informed as we are. We want to keep you up to date.

And once again, this is the latest technology that is helping us bring you information. This is called Skype. It includes using a telephone and a computer to send us a signal of what's happening in real time in Hilo.

VENERI (ph): Kirk (ph), I don't know if can you hear me, but we received some information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead, Mark. This is Mark Veneri (ph).

VENERI (ph): We just received some information over some of the people who are walking by and some bystanders that (INAUDIBLE) Beach Park. They said there is a change in water receding. On the break wall, there is also some receding going on as of this moment. And we're still waiting for any further information. But as you of right now, once again, Kohekohe, there is some discoloration in the water and along the break wall. That's all we have at the moment.

We'll keep you up to date as we get closer yet to this time of the tsunami arrival. As of right now, that's the latest information that we have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Mark, thanks very much. That all helps we're glad to hear that. It's folks taking care of each other and that's the way it should be. Appreciate the information from you, our associates and friends over there.

Right now, our vantage point, the waves still crashing gently on the shore there in Hilo. Hilo Bay, relatively calm. But as you heard Mark say, there is some concern, Coconut Island, the water receding a bit. These things don't happen instantly. That's the other misconception. Probably because of Hollywood and its view of what tidal waves are or tsunamis are.

It's not one big wave like it may be at Waimea during surf season. It is like a flash flood. That's how it was described by our oceanographer friend at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center this morning. It more like a flash flood. And we know how very dangerous those can be because they happen suddenly. The water rises very quickly and in this case -

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: OK. We're going to continue to monitor these pictures and talk a little bit about what we can expect here in these upcoming hours. This is meteorologist Jacqui Jeras. And we're getting reports now that we had a tsunami which occurred just on an island outside of New Zealand. OK. And that is about at the 12-hour mark. OK.

And Hawaii's waves are at the 15-hour mark. So to put this in per inspect inspective, potentially the waves could be coming a little bit later than we initially thought. And that may be why we aren't seeing anything at this time. So we need to be on high alert any time. We just have to be patient and wait and watch.

We're also getting some reports that the water is starting to pull away from the beaches. And when the water starts to pull away, that's a sign that that water is starting to go up in the ocean and pulling back and then we'll start to watch these waves continue to move on in. What we're expecting in Hawaii, the best estimate is that highest waves would likely be in Hilo harbor. And that will be anywhere between six or eight feet. And this is like a surge of water.

So it's not one big wave that you're going to see come up. You'll watch the water pull back and then we'll watch that steady stream of water begin to push inland. So these are the things that we're going to be watching as we take a look at some of these tower cams and some of these eyes over the waves. That's what we're going to be watching for the first time that things are actually beginning. We're going to dip in now again to our affiliate KHON and hear what they have to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- discoloration beyond the break wall and above the - in some of the break wall, which means water is receding out. We don't know if that wave is going to come but definite discoloration in the water. And I don't know, it just looks very calm, like a pond but you can see the definite discoloration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should also add Mark - thank you very much. We should add that the tidal surge does not come in the same way at the same speed, at the same height all along the coastline. It may vary from place to place depending on the bottom of the ocean. And that can create a different reaction in the wave. There's no way to tell whether it will be coming on shore quickly, whether it will be rather slow surge. You never know.

So again, we urge everyone to be careful. We just heard from Mark Veneri (ph) that there is apparent discoloration in the water beyond the break wall at Hilo Bay. And that could likely mean that the water is receding. That's just the first part of what happens when there is a tsunami. The water will recede. And then in a matter of minutes, the first wave will come through.

But that is only the beginning. And we were told this over and over again, especially after the incident in Indonesia. It can be the second wave or the third or the seventh that will be the devastating wave. You must be aware of that. It is not all clear after the first surge of water. So be aware, be alert. Don't take any chances. Mark, anything new?

Let's see, now it's 11:23, we're going back to our video being provided by And I believe B.J. PENN himself, Hawaii's own B.J. PENN is on the line with us this morning. Is that you, sir?

VOICE OF B.J. PENN, BJPENN.COM: Hey, Kirk. How it is going, man?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going fine for us. How's it going for you?

B.J. PENN: You know, I guess all the Hilo town is just out and watching the bay from any angle they can. Everybody cleared out all their stuff from all the downtown offices and businesses and kind of moved up into the areas on to safer ground right now. And we're just kind of, you know, hanging out and seeing what's going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to ask you, B.J., you're on higher ground, are you not?

B.J. PENN: Yes, I m. I'm on higher ground right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The anticipation sometimes is the worst part of something like this, the not knowing what's going to happen.

B.J. PENN: Yes. Exactly. You know, just sitting here, I just keep getting that feeling that something does roll in, you know, just the heartbreak and the sadness everybody will feel if a tidal wave really comes through Hilo town today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From your vantage point, can you see the bay or are we looking just off the coastline of Hilo?

B.J. PENN: We can see the whole bay. I'm looking at the whole bay right now. And, you know, you just got a great shot of the whole bay. I'm looking at Coconut Island. And I'm looking at Naniloa Hotel, Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and I'm looking at, you know, the whole bay where all the canoes are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard from Mark Veneri (ph), John Veneri's (ph) brother who is at another vantage point that there is a report of discoloration in the water. That it appears that there is something going on. That the water may be receding a bit.

B.J. PENN: You know, it looks really calm. I've never seen it this calm before. So you know, I'm starting to wonder what's going on. Actually, now that I look, all the canoes are gone. Everything is gone. The whole town is cleared out. You know, everybody's ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They took all the boats that were able to leave the harbor anyway to move them out to sea so they wouldn't be in danger.

B.J. PENN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever been involved in anything like this before, B.J., besides the havoc that you reek?

B.J. PENN: You know what, not this serious. I've been through a lot of tidal wave warning, a lot of tsunami warnings as a kid growing up. They always would teach us, you know, come up, run up to this point and then nobody can - and then the tidal wave can't hit you from you this point. But this is serious. I've never seen it this serious. I never heard the sirens go off at 6 a.m. and start going off every hour to half hour. This is much different than I've ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But as a youngster growing up, you were aware that your relatives, your aunts and uncles and others had been around when the real bad tsunami hit Hilo?

B.J. PENN: Oh, as a youngster growing up, that's all we - you know tsunami museum. That's probably going to get hit if the tsunami comes in. The tsunami museum will probably take a hit from that. And you always hear about it. It never escaped their mind, tsunamis in Hilo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sure every Hilo schoolchild made a visit to that museum. It would be a shame if something happened to it. A lot of archives, a lot of documents there that are important to the scientists and the rest of us. And so we're hoping for the best on that front. Everybody safe at your house? B.J. PENN: Everybody safe. Everybody safe. We're just hanging out. We're kind of at - a little cliff. So we're good from here. We're right on the other side of Bay Shore Towers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that's - I was trying to remember the name of that part of the building. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now it just looks like underneath the surface there is just a river of mud and the river just look very active pouring into the Waialua area underneath the bridge. You can just see the mud and it looks like a very strong current just pushing all this water in. Meanwhile, the river itself has risen. It looks like it's risen at least half a foot.

Now we're starting to see activity out in the bay front. Again, things still very calm on the surface. But below the surface, you can see the mud and the current picking up in the river as it heads in. And then out by the Hilo Bay front area, we can also see activity to the left of the break wall. It looks like there's - where kind of the waves would be breaking out there, even though just a few minutes ago all was quiet out there.

Not a great big powerful wave coming in. But it looks like there is just activity as it reach that area, whether it's gotten a little bit shallower because the water is coming inshore or gotten a little bit deeper. It is hard to tell. But we can see visible signs that things are changing in Hilo Bay as well as the Waialua River. Again, the Waialua River keeps filling up and looks swollen right now and again we still see that mud pouring through the river.

Things pretty calm here. Nobody is really too excited. Because it's not like the big powerful tsunami wave that we've seen pictures of. Of course, even had video of from the 1960s and even 1946 tsunami. But again, we're starting to see some changes. We're starting to see some effect from the tsunami waves as they arrive here in Hilo. We'll keep an eye on this. As soon as we see anything different, we'll let you know. Reporting from Hilo, this is Paul Drewes, TV4 News.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thank you very much, Paul. Keep in contact. We want to hear what's going on there, definitely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we see 11:28. And we're starting to see some of what we might expect to see in Hilo?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, science isn't always something so exact. We can say, I am going to have this happen for you at 11:28:58. it's not exact. And of course, I wouldn't be surprised if things are happening in Hilo right now. Which means that we here in Honolulu should see something about 30 minutes from now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The description that Paul is giving us of seeing the mud going through Waialua and seeing the Waialua River looks and swollen, like there's more water going through, would that already the push of a wave? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That could potentially be the push of the wave. If that's (INAUDIBLE) the waves, that's could be good news for us because that's not a very significant wave. That could also be - you have a lot of undertow, kind of like a much smaller type wave situation where you have the water being sucked out before the wave comes in. That might have dragged a lot of that mud on the first initial pullout there.

And then you just kind of have some slushing of the water going around within the Waialua River there in Hilo. Again, Paul Drewes is reporting for us from Hilo Bay. We're seeing some action, some changes in the current there along the Hilo Bay front.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the results of the disaster tsunami that hit southeast Asia two years ago is that the word tsunami became a household word. And a lot of people who are not exposed to this learned a little bit more about the Pacific, and our currents, and the destruction. So as we said before, there's more and more knowledge coming in as we face these different situations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's interesting to note that as we watch here, the countries all around the Pacific, as far away as Japan, are also have their eyes on this to see what's going to happen. And also as far, you know, we're going north, and the West Coast, as well.

The Pacific is a very large ocean basin here. And we're talking about one corner, southeast corner, where all of this activity started at 8:34 Hawaii Standard Time, last night, 14 and a half hours now -- almost 15 hours. We're talking about a wave crossing the Pacific. We have already seen it hit portions of Central America, South America, many islands in the South Pacific. And now waiting for any potential impact here in Hawaii, with possible future impacts in Japan, Russia, Alaska, and West Coast of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And a lot of this is very new science. We're learning as we go along.

WHITFIELD: All right. You're listening to our affiliate, KITV. Now let's listen to KHON, as they await first waves of the tsunami that have been spawned by that earthquake in Chile.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our photographer up here, and pan to my left, where you see Kuwalu (ph) Boat Harbor. And earlier in the day we saw a tremendous amount of vessels headed out to sea. You can see the boat harbor is relatively empty right now. Those boaters just taking an abundance f precaution, heading out to sea where they would not be affected by any tsunami if that were to occur.

And I'm going to take you straight offshore right now, and you can see just the tremendous amount of vessels out here, every kind of vessel imaginable. You see sail boats, you see tankers, recreational vessels, a lot of them gathered in a cluster directly off shore of Alamwana (ph) Beach Park. And now if I can pan a little bit off to our left here, you see the Alawaii (ph) Boat Harbor, and a similar situation but a few more boats there. Like you said, Kirk, perhaps these are folks that have vessels here, but cannot get to their vessels in time.

So we have been watching the water, as well. There is a little bit of a low tide right now. We see some exposed reef. We're going to show that you right now. We're going to have brief pan over. And this was the situation for the last few hours. So this is nothing related to the tsunami event that we may expect. This is probably some normal tidal action. But if there were to be any receding of water we would have a good vantage point of it, from up here, Kirk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Andrew, I was sort of cautious about saying that the water was receding there, because as you said, it is low tide. And that is rather normal to have the reef expose that way. It must be odd to look out at the ocean and see all those boats. But look out at Alamawana (ph) Boulevard, see no traffic, whatever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, we actually have a good vantage point of Alamawana Boulevard. And police began shutting down that thoroughfare just after 10 this morning. And right now we see no one on that Alamawana (ph) boulevard. We can also see Kupalawani (ph) Boulevard, there is a little bit of traffic, but there is not too much.

I want to have Reed (ph) pan back over here. You can see the Kapalawani Boulevard, just outside of McKinley High School. So people are taking precaution. It appears that they have heeded the warning to stay off the roadways, Kirk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Thanks very much, Andrew. We'll check back with you in just a little bit. We appreciate you being there on the roof giving us all that information.

As we are taking a look, here, through our skycam, we'll tell you that Hilo Airport remains closed. But it is the only airport that is closed at this hour. We understand that they close the airport early on during the warning because of a lot of families that live in that area.

All the UH campuses are closed today. All HPU classes are canceled. Agrosy University classes are cancelled. Hill College closed. Kapi'olani Medical Center has cancelled all elective surgeries and procedures. Now the only Pass-go (ph) that is that is open, Kapala and NYPO, Waikiki and Evalay (ph) are closed this morning and will be until the warnings all clear is given, I'm sure.

Most schools, all 51 branches of public libraries are closed. The Waikiki Premium Outlets will be closing. Windward Mall closed. Alamuwana (ph) closed, Ward Center is closed. We were told that the Kahala Mall is open this morning, in case you need anything. Central Pacific Bank branches statewide are closed and American Savings Bank branches, also closed, usually open on a Saturday morning.

There will be no mail delivery in the inundation zone until the all clear is given. Now we are told that the U.S. Postal Service will make mail delivery in those areas that are deemed safe by the U.S. Postal Service.

And I believe we have the latest now from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Jay Cunningham-Jay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Kirk, good morning to you. I don't know if we're -- we're not quite yet to afternoon. Another 30 minutes away from that. We can let you know that we're basically just in a hold mode here. Speaking earlier with Charles McCurry (ph) from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, the director saying as soon as they got the details, any sort of data, they were able to share with us that they would come out immediately to let us bring that news statewide.

Again, we are just waiting. And somewhere we fall on the priority list. Obviously, they're keeping in contact with the different civil defenses across the state, the different county civil defenses, the state civil defense. To all sort of keep the finger on the pulse of this. Right now we have heard nothing, so we're literally in just sort of a hold mode here waiting to hear from any representative from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to let us know if they have seen any sort of tidal surges and the different buoys that they have placed around the state here.

And, of course, when we hear that, we'll, of course, break in live to give you the very latest from here at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Kirk, back to you now in the studio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Jay, we find it intriguing that we pinpointed the time of arrival at 11:04, and then find out later it could be an hour either way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, Kirk, talking to the oceanographer a little earlier, he made mention that it's a big wave. As it approaches, it's not surprising that you hear about discoloration. Because he had talked about it churning up all kinds of things on the bottom of the ocean and sort of bringing them ashore.

A lot of that discoloration that you're seeing, or that is reported, or they believe they're seeing may well be from that sort of action that is going on underneath the water, as he said the waves traveling thousands of miles, at about 500 miles per hour. And so we will, of course, keep you updated. Any news we hear, from the center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks very much, Jay Cunningham, our colleague reporting from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

It is now 11:37. Senator Dan Akaka is monitoring the activity at his office in Washington, D.C. Senator Akaka will receive a briefing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


WHITFIELD: OK, that is the coverage from KHON, our affiliate there in Honolulu. We want to tune now into our affiliate KITV and hear what they're saying.


PAUL DREWES, KITV NEWS: -again those rapids heading out toward the ocean at this point. Helicopters are still circling overhead. They can obviously see what's going on out there because it's very visible. I'm sure people along the shore can see as well.

Haven't gotten readings as far as what's going on with those gauges. But I can tell you there is definitely something rising and falling as far as the water levels. The water in the river, which was looking to overflow its banks, now dropping once again, as that water rushes out. It looks like back down to where it was before all of this water started. Or started coming in and coming out.

So, again, we'll keep you updated on what is happening with the waves and see if this surge that we're seeing gets stronger, and if these waves get any more powerful as they come in and out of Hilo Bay. That is the latest from Hilo side of the island chain. Back to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thank you so much, Paul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And getting back to what Justin was saying of how when water gets small, that is why you are seeing it, first of all, in the river. In past events very often it is the Aluwai (ph) that will show a rise or fall on Oahu first. Just because you're a little inland, just be aware of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, that is all because you have think, a massive amount of energy trying to be squeezed into smaller and smaller places. Can't go farther down beneath the sea floor. It has to go up. And that's that rise we see, typically first, in smaller bays, channels and even smaller, I guess, streams, as you go inland.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And of course, as we have been mentioning, the word "tsunami" mentions the harbor, and the harbor wave. That's why we'll also keeping an eye on not only Hilo Bay, because of the topography on it, but some of the major harbors here in Hawaii.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, Sakaluii Harbor (ph) of concern. Now Willie-Willie (ph) Harbor on the island of Kauai and also Honolulu Harbor on the South Shore again of Oahu. We are dealing with some waves along the south facing shores, north facing shores. We have a couple of swells going on as well. We have to remember that these types of waves, a tsunami wave, is more like a sea level rise. And then we'll see our surges-our swells on top of that.

So say we get a six-foot tsunami wave into Hilo and three-foot wind, or swell generated wave. You are talking about six feet. And then on top of that another three foot wave. So kind of deceiving here when you think about wave. I know it is called a tsunami wave. But it should be more so called a tsunami surge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And a lot of people don't realize, that the major damage happens along the shoreline.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that it pushes through and it is not necessarily that initial wave, but it is the compounding the magnitude of the strength and the energy of the waves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what we're hoping, too. Is that whatever Paul just saw, out in Hilo, that drop in the water, a sudden rise in water, and now receding of water in Wailu (ph) River, is the first tsunami wave. Because that's a good sign that maybe the second and third won't necessarily be all that destructive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are, again, looking at live picture of Magic Island. And off in the distance can you see some of the fishing boats that have evacuated the harbor. They're further out to sea where the damage will be minimized if there is any damage at all. No one at Magic Island at this time. At least we're hoping not. It seems that --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks all clear. Good thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a surfer out earlier. Not a very wise thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Along the coastlines, from very early this morning, people were being advised to evacuate to higher levels, especially a lot of the people who live along the coastlines.

We were at Oahu at 10:00 this morning. The city and state did close those main thoroughfares along the low-lying areas on the windward side of the island, East Honolulu and the leeward side of the island. So hopefully most of those people did take heed and leave. Right there it looks like an emergency vehicle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. There was some emergency workers.


WHITFIELD: We're going to continue to watch these live pictures streaming in from our affiliate there in Honolulu, KITV as well as KHON. We're seeing images coming from Waikiki Beach and then we are also images coming from Hilo. Hilo, in particular, the Hilo side of the Big Island, because the expectation is the tsunamis that are -- have been triggered by that 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile, actually would be hit first.

And nobody wants the repeat of what they saw in 1960 when very similarly tsunami triggered by earthquakes in Chile ended up bringing 34 foot waves there to Hilo. And it was very destructive. And many people died as a result.

Jacqui Jeras is also watching this. What is interesting here is there has been a tick tock, almost like a countdown to a shuttle launch. In this case, it is almost like a countdown to the arrival of the tsunami. We thought, perhaps, scientists thought five minutes after the hour that the first wave might hit.


WHITFIELD: Calculations off a little bit. But, you know, they're looking for other signs such as a pull you described earlier of the waves from the shore, the discoloration of the water.

JERAS: Yeah. All those things are signs that something could be happening. Obviously, when you start to see that discoloration, it's a sign that the ocean is churning and it is digging up that silt and things, you know, from the ocean floor. When you start to see that water pull back that is a sign that the ocean is receding. And so that water is lifting a little bit before you would get that surge in.

Now we had about an hour ago, maybe an hour and 15 minutes ago already, we had reports of tsunami on New Zealand. And they were at that 12-hour plus mark. OK, so I want you to look at this map. Here's New Zealand and the island we're getting the reports from, New Chatham, is right about here, OK?

And take a look at Hawaii. You're on the 15-hour increment. So if we were seeing this an hour ago, it could potentially still be another hour, plus, before we begin to start to see those first waves. So we're hearing that the Tsunami Warning Center may potentially give us an update on timing. I would expect that could even be a one hour from now. So we'll continue to monitor that and let you know.

But we have seen buoys outside of this area that have been reporting some of those increases, or decreases, in water height. And so any time you see that and we see those changes, that's another proof positive, basically, that this is still coming.

Now how bad is it going to be? We don't know for sure. But best estimates are that you can see water level rises between about foot and a half, to maybe as much as eight feet, plus. And it's going to be some of these harbors, unfortunately, where the people live where we're going to see the worst of it. And a lot of that has to do with just the shape of the island.

You get that little bay up there in the Hilo area. That will continue to force the water up even higher than it would be. So here's Hilo, for example. You can see that area. And that water is just going to funnel right in there. It's going to get pushed up. So we expect the water is going to be higher in this area, than it will be elsewhere.

By the way, we continue to monitor places like Hilo and Honolulu. Keep in mind as you see those Honolulu shots, you're going to be getting this water after they see it here, on to the Big Island, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And they're concerned about Hilo, because it is the second-largest city of the Hawaiian Islands. Granted, evacuations have already taken place. Many people have sought higher ground. But, you know, the tourism in the Hilo section, the infrastructure there, certainly could get damaged significantly, if indeed these waves are what some are expecting.

JERAS: Yeah. And historically, you know, we've seen earthquakes that have occurred of this similar magnitude off of Chile that have produced significant tsunamis and damage in the Hilo area. So if history is telling, we could have some very big problems in the upcoming hours.

WHITFIELD: Jacqui, thanks so much.

Of course, people on the Big Island and the Island of Oahu, all of them trying to connect with one another.

And Josh Levs, I'm going to bring him into the picture. Many of them are connecting via social networking. We're seeing it, you know, just more commonplace, whether it's an impending disaster or whether it is the result of a disaster.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Fred, I know we are going to be staying on these pictures. So, we'll do that, but I'm also going to tell through is so much Internet activity going an about Hawaii and from Hawaii right now and it is playing a really important role for a lot of people.

It has been playing a role throughout the day. I've been camped out here since early this morning. First as we have been following Chile and the last few hours as we have been specifically following Hawaii. Let me tell you some of the ways people are using the Internet.

What is open, behind me, you can't see it that great. That's fine. This is from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. This is getting a ton of traffic. People come to take a look at what the warnings have been from the official center throughout the day.

What we're also seeing here is a lot going on, on Twitter. People warning each other throughout the day. I'm going to read to you one example of someone inside Hawaii. They are saying as interesting as it may be, do not descend to watch the tsunami in Hawaii for your safety and the safety of others. Keep roads clear.

Now the reason I stumbled on my words just now is this, I want to tell you about it. This is something that has been created on Twitter today. It is #HITSUNAMI. This is the term that, is what people are using when talking about the Hawaii tsunami throughout the day. There are tons and tons and tons of traffic that is using that information right there.

So many people warning each other. And in some cases, sending pictures as well. I was taking a look a couple minutes ago at this blog that we have over here. Someone was taking pictures from a top Sleeping Giant Kauai, saying we're camped out up here. We're ready to take a look from outdoors in this area and see what's there. He is talking about some other things here. A parking lot with tsunami evacuees and you are seeing some images here of this.

All this is from a blog called ramblings of a Dutchy in California. But he is in Hawaii right now. It is Jurus.eversonline (ph).com.

I also want to show you from historical perspective, take a look at this. I want you to see this photo here. We're talking about the past. This photo, out from the Associated Press right now, this is from 1960. We've been talking about how massive this earthquake is today. I've been told at 8.8 It will be on of the top 10 hugest earthquakes we have seen in recorded history.

And what we're seeing here is the last one. This is Hilo in 1960, after there was a huge earthquake, what is considered to be the biggest earthquake in recorded history. People right there, now all these years later, we're looking at Hilo again, Fred. A little historic perspective.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and that was an 8.0 magnitude quake back in 1960. This one that just occurred, this morning, 3:00 East Coast, kind of time, or 3:00 o'clock, local time, I should say, it was an 8.8 magnitude quake, also Chile, triggering the tsunami. So that is the concern that, like you said, Josh, history just might be repeated. Perhaps not with the level of damage and fatalities because people have been warned.

LEVS: The buildings are different, the warnings are different as well.

WHITFIELD: In this case, people have been evacuated. That made a big difference. And through social networking, people communicating and reminding one another of the safe things to do.

LEVS: That's right.

WHITFIELD: Josh Levs, thanks so much.

We're going to return to our affiliate coverage and listen in one more time to KITV. They've had their cameras fixated on the Hilo Bay area. Let's listen in to their correspondent.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I mentioned, the surge is coming in and out. Now that surge is going in again. We're starting to see that current change. And the river current of the water pick up flowing into the Waialua (ph) River, and also starting to fill up. And we have seen some more changes, to Hilo Bay, as well.

We did think we saw a little bit of reef appearing in the middle of the bay as the water was receding. In fact, it turns out it was just a whale that came into the bay. We saw the back of the whale. It is still in there, in the bay, apparently unaffected by the water surging in and out.

We wanted to give you an idea of what some of the long-time residents here in Hilo, who have seen some of the things in the past, to share with you what they saw. And again, they have been watching that river come in and out. And when it did so, that is when that damaging tsunami came in.

That's the latest from Hilo. We'll have more, obviously, throughout the morning. Live from Hilo, this is Paul Drewes, from KITV News. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Paul. That was good perspective to hear from somebody who has lived through tsunamis in the Big Island, and stood right there and seen what happens to Waialua. So perhaps this is a very good thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a good scenario that this is not as bad as previous events.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Time the arrival of that first wave. What should people be doing, and not doing, at this point until they hear the next directions from you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, right now everybody, if you're not in the tsunami evacuation zone, we advise that you stay where you are. Limit the number of road traffic, that is a very good idea, because we're not out of the woods yet. If you're in a tsunami evacuation zone, or live there, you should be out of it or at a higher place. Like what we call a vertical evacuation. Third floor, on a building that is concrete and steel reinforced. Everybody should just be waiting. We say prayers that everyone comes out of this OK, and just be very, very patient and help each other out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. He's going to go right back up to this room that is behind us. Thank you, sir.

Right behind us is where the officials are meeting to bring us the very latest as they know it. Now, again, this is State National Guard, federal officials, as well in this room up the stairs here, behind me, and to my right, where they are staying in constant contact regarding what is the latest that they can tell. There has been no all clear, folks. You want to still stay on your toes about this one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is now 11:52. We're still keeping an eye on the situation in Hilo. I believe we have our Skype camera from the website. That he has provided for us. We even chatted with B.J. this morning to see what's going on. We want to see if we can get that Skype transmission for you. Skype, of course, just one more of the technological devices that we're trying to use to gather as much information as possible for you on this rather anxious Saturday morning, almost noon time now.

Once again, we should repeat that even though the anticipated, anticipated arrival of the first tidal surge was 11:04 this morning, the fact is that we learned from the oceanographers this is an inexact science. That in fact, that each tidal wave, each tsunami has its own personality if, you will. Some rather slowly developing.

Once again, we're looking through the Skype camera provided by on the Big Island, Hilo. A good view of Hilo Bay. We've heard from both B.J. and Mark Vaneri (ph), the brother of John Vaneri (ph) here at Channel 2, that there has been obvious discoloration of the water in Hilo Bay. While the water has not receded to any great degree, we're also told by the scientists that that discoloration is the result of massive energy of a tsunami moving across the ocean, stirring up the bottom of the ocean. The wave runs all the way from the surface to the ocean floor. And then carrying that debris, if you will, ahead of it. That's not uncommon.

And also scientists warn us that once the tidal surge arrives with that full load of debris picks up other debris on the land. That poses as much of a hazard to people on the low-lying areas as the water itself. We can only watch and wait until the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center gives the all clear. Right now things look very calm in Hilo, Hilo Bay. We have no reports yet to pass along to you regarding any other parts of the coastline there on Hawaii Island that may be seeing some change in the water levels, whether it's receding of the water, or water coming on shore. We've been watching this all night long. Joe Moore (ph) and the crew were here all night long. And he's taking a short break. We're filling in as best we can. And being ready to pass along any information.

Once again, Alamawana (ph) Boulevard closed as you might well imagine. In fact, all low-lying roads on all the islands have been closed down by police and civil defense officials to keep people from heading out on the roadways.

And another caution just to pass along to you; that once the water level rises, and it will rise, just a matter of how much, when it goes back down, do not -- do not venture on to the shore. The first wave is only the beginning of what is a series of waves.


WHITFIELD: You're listening to our live affiliate coverage out of Hawaii, where the expectation is that a tsunami is to hit at any moment now. It was to take place, at least scientists said, about five minutes after the hour. That was 50 minutes ago. However, people there still bracing for what could be the first impact on the Hilo side of the Big Island.

Jacqui Jeras is joining us from our Weather Center where you've been keeping a close watch on this, too.

The things that we're hearing the anchor there explain, they're talking about the expectation of water discoloration, how the water would push back from the shore. But that shouldn't be any reason for anyone to believe that this -- what is currently a docile scene will remain docile.

JERAS: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: That really is kind of the prelude to a wave that could be significant. Anywhere form one and a half to eight feet high.

JERAS: Well, we have some confirmation now, some breaking news, Fredricka, that we want to bring you to. We're getting reports on the Big Island now that the tsunami has begun. It has officially begun and we're starting to see water level rises on the range of about three feet. We talked about what we can expect over the coming hours. And we know that, you know, it's not just one wave of water. So this might be a beginning weak one, and then we could see later waves that could be even stronger than that. So, we do have confirmation now that this is underway.

Here we go from the national - from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, that the tsunami has reached Hawaii. It is just beginning to register on Big Island gauges. Later bulletins will report details on the Hawaii observation. So here we go. Things are officially beginning. We're getting under way. Three feet rise, not too bad. We'll keep those numbers down there. But certainly no indication as to whether or not this is going to get worse, or if this will be the worst of it.

Oftentimes, Fredricka, the first wave is not the strongest one. So things are going to be certainly touch-and-go in the upcoming hours. These waves can come in increments. They could be five minutes apart. They could be 15 minutes apart. They could be longer than that apart. We don't know exactly what to expect when the next one begins to push in.

WHITFIELD: So, Jacqui, earlier you were explaining the buoys. Are we saying the indicator for the three-foot wave that already hit is one of those buoys, and the reading from those buoys?

JERAS: Possibly from some of those buoys. We've been seeing them certainly off shore. But then we also have gauges and observations a little bit closer right on the island itself. So we'll be monitoring those gauges and watch them as well. We certainly saw some big drops about an hour ago, maybe 200 miles away from Hawaii. So we'll watch as time progresses. You know, that could be an hour from now that we'll start to see the bigger waves begin to pull in.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jacqui Jeras, thank you so much.