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A Tsunami Experience and CI Moment

Posted Mar 16 2011 1:05pm
Questions for the deaf and hearing impaired
  • Are you prepared for emergencies and major alerts when traveling, especially when it comes to hotel accommodations?
  • Do you let airline personnel and agents know that you would appreciate alerts for boarding times, gate changes, delays, etc.
  • When checking into a hotel, do you request an ADA kit and let the staff know that you may need special assistance or notifications during emergencies?
When I travel alone through airports and stay at hotels, I am not afraid to let others know that I might miss a message and would appreciate some personal attention. I do this for two reasons…for my own safety and to increase awareness about the needs for the deaf and hard of hearing.  Even though I can hear with my cochlear implants, I usually make sure I ask for assistance, especially when I travel alone. I am still deaf when I am not wearing my cochlear implant processors. I turn them off when I fly (why waste batteries on engine noises) and at night.

My husband and I recently traveled to Hawai’i for business and were staying at the Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort on the O’ahu Island. Our room was on the 27th floor overlooking the Pacific Ocean right near the beach. Last Thursday evening, we had just gone to bed and had turned off the light after a long day. We were planning to get up early the next morning to tour Pearl Harbor and do some sightseeing. I had turned off my “ears” and was doing some reading. We were first alerted to pending danger around 9:22 p.m. by my friend, Evelyn, when she sent me a text message asking if we were okay. And a few more text messages and Facebook alerts came in from other friends asking the same question because they knew we were in Hawai’i. Just as I turned to Steve in confusion, he immediately sat up in bed and giving me the impression he was listening to something. He was hearing announcements and instructions coming through the hotel intercom.  It was difficult for him to understand what was being said because the intercom system kept making crackling noises. (There is no way I would have been able to make out the words even with my cochlear implants on.)  We immediately turned on the TV where we found out about the 9.0 magnitude Japan earthquake. We were shocked to see the massive devastation that had just happened and learned that the earthquake triggered a powerful tsunami that was headed for Hawai’i in a few hours! Steve also received a phone call from a colleague at Hawai’i Electric offering us his home if we needed to evacuate.

Hawaiians are very service oriented and hospitable people.  The hotel staff was well prepared and promised to keep their guests informed on any new developments through the night. There were signs by the elevator in English and Japanese.  We were assured that we were safe as long as we stayed above the third floor. Our hotel was built like a fortress and the staff was well prepared for situations like this.  The tsunami was scheduled to come ashore to the Hawaiian Islands around 3:30 a.m. I immediately jumped out of bed, put my cochlear implants back on and packed my suitcase in case we had to evacuate in a hurry!

We heard tsunami sirens all night long (a new CI sound for me!). We also heard the police on the streets below us telling everyone to get off the beaches and go inland. Needless to say, it was a long night of warnings and we got very little sleep. Steve and I took turns watching the TV and dozing off. We even went down to the deck on the 3rd floor around 3 a.m. to see what was going on. The conference rooms were turned into evacuation centers and there were TV monitors set up everywhere. There was a church next to the hotel and I was comforted when I saw the simple cross on top of the roof. I knew then that we would be okay, no matter what happened. I was reminded of Deuteronomy 31:8 that tells us that "the Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."  Whenever I am anxious, nervous, upset, or scared, this verse reminds me that the Lord has already gone before me, preparing the way for protection and peace.
It was actually a beautiful and eerie night. The tsunami waves did come ashore and came over the break walls, flooding the beaches and streets, stopping short of the high rise hotels, including ours.  Most of the waves were around four feet but some beaches on the islands reported eight foot waves.  When the sun came up the next morning, the streets and hotel decks were soaking wet. The sky was a beautiful blue color with a few white clouds.  The water was also blue, crystal clear and sparkling in the sunlight. There were sailboats back on the water and a few surfers taking advantage of the big waves. As we looked out at the beach, we could see the seaweed that had washed ashore.
I am so thankful for text messaging, email, Facebook and modern technology. Otherwise, we would not have gotten the messages about the tsunami so quickly. Because Steve is hearing, I don’t usually ask for special accommodations because he takes good care of me.  In the future, though, I think it would be a good idea to make the hotel staff aware that I have a hearing loss in case of emergency.   My husband may not always be in the room with me if I need to be alerted.

While our experience was mild compared to the tragic events and loss of life and property in Japan, we never dreamed in our lifetime that we would experience a tsunami warning.  This was a reminder to me to always be prepared in case of emergency, no matter what the situation is.
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