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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 27, 2006

Earthquake, tsunami hoax alarms hundreds on O'ahu

By Rod Ohira and Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writers

A hoax about a pending earthquake and tsunami triggered a storm of calls yesterday to civil defense, police and news organizations, and sent hundreds of Leeward O'ahu residents rushing for gas and supplies.

"It appears to have been orchestrated and malicious," state Civil Defense spokesman Ray Lovell said last night.

State officials said they received 500 to 600 calls from residents from 4 to 6 p.m.

Spokesman John Cummings said O'ahu Civil Defense took hundreds of calls and he even answered one from a relative on Maui. O'ahu's 911 system was bombarded by hundreds of inquiries, according to police, and geophysicists Brian Shiro and Victor Sardina answered about 200 calls from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in 'Ewa Beach.

The inquiries varied but the concern was spurred by fast-spreading talk of a magnitude 9-plus earthquake that supposedly was to occur on the Big Island sometime between midnight and tomorrow morning, which would cause a large tsunami.

"It was like a wildfire," Leeward Community College student Tashiana Khan of Mililani said. "I heard it not just from one person but five people, including my cousin who called from Idaho. It was hard to believe how fast it spread.

"One of my friends was shopping at Wal-Mart in Kunia and was told to hurry up and go home because an earthquake was coming. Another heard about it in a restaurant.

"I'm comfortable knowing it's not true and I told them unless my school goes down, I have to study for an English exam."

Stephanie Thiel of Kaimuki said last night that her boyfriend, who is visiting relatives in Hilo, was trying to calm down his mother.

"My boyfriend heard it from his auntie in Waimanalo, who has friends in the Police Department," Thiel said. "She told him it wasn't a hoax, that HPD would be coming in to evacuate the beach. I find it really ridiculous that people could collectively do this."

"All we can do is tell people it's not true, it's a hoax," Shiro said. "We think it started on the Big Island and spread from there. We've gotten calls from places like Washington and Las Vegas asking about it."

A spokeswoman at KHNL-TV said the station got hundreds of calls.

Several local TV stations ran crawlers across the screen saying there was no tsunami but the rumors persisted. Callers to The Advertiser said they had heard that a TV announcement said a tsunami was on the way.

CALLS FROM FAMILY

Fears appeared to be more intense on the Wai'anae Coast, where some callers told The Advertiser they had heard an evacuation had been ordered and that civil defense volunteers were on the scene.

At 9:01 p.m., all eight stalls at the Nanakuli Tesoro station were occupied and there were cars waiting for gas.

One driver was Chuck Jones, 36, of Wai'anae Valley. With him was his father, Harry Jones, 64, of Nanakuli.

"My daughter called me from 'Ewa," Harry Jones said, "and she's got a sister-in-law on Maui it was sister-in-law or a grandmother or something and they called up and said there's a seismograph and it's just going like crazy."

Harry Jones waved his hand back and forth as he imitated the seismograph. "It's supposed to happen either today or tomorrow."

When told that no one can predict an earthquake, Chuck Jones said, "Better safe than sorry, that's my way of looking at it. I heard there was a possible tsunami so I'd figured I'd fill up with gas and pick up my dad in Nanakuli in the low-lying areas. I'm just going to take him up to my house (at a higher elevation)."

Christine Mikami, a clerk at the Tesoro, said the rush started between 5 and 5:30 p.m.

"Oh yeah, everybody's talking about it. They're saying 'Oh my God, there's gonna be a tsunami there's going to be a big earthquake that's going to generate a big tsunami,' " Mikami said. "One lady came in all panicked saying, 'You need to get on your computer right now and see what's going on.' People were saying, 'Give me $50 worth of gas, give me $100 worth of gas.' "

She said when told that it was all a hoax, people wouldn't listen.

'IT'S CRAZY'

William Aila, the harbormaster at the Wai'anae Boat Harbor, said he had gotten at least 20 calls.

"It's crazy. I told them no one can predict earthquakes, so nobody can predict tsunamis, so don't worry about it," Aila said.

Ron Burton, the swing shift security supervisor at Ko Olina Resort, said: "We've heard that the gas stations on the Wai'anae Coast are all jam-packed and there are 15 cars at each pump.

"I had our dispatcher call the tsunami warning center, and they said there had been no earthquake, so no tsunami warning of any kind."

By 10 p.m. gas stations in Wai'anae were much busier than normal for a Sunday night, but not jammed.

The lesson to be learned, officials say, is that there's no science that can accurately predict when an earthquake or seismic event of nature will occur.

Lovell said the state's warning system will alert people if there is a real emergency.

He said an investigation is planned to determine the source of the hoax.

Staff writer John Windrow contributed to this report. Reach Rod Ohira at 525-8181 or rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com. Reach Will Hoover at 525-8038 or whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com and Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.