Occasionally the tsunami warning siren recently installed on our beach is tested. The first time it went off, with plenty of advance notice, people complained that it was too loud and woke them up. Um – isn’t it supposed to?
In March 2010 there was no siren installed and we were warned by TV and radio that there was a tsunami heading our way. Living as I do, at near sea level with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the estuary of two rivers on the other, I am vulnerable on two fronts. I had to take it seriously, especially as a young houseguest was staying with me. She was heading overseas, needed to bunk down temporarily, and had arrived with everything she owned, which ended up in, on or under the bed in the spare room.
So, early on that Sunday morning in 2010 Ange was fast asleep in the debris of her bed after a night out. I found the what-to-do-in-an-emergency information in the kitchen drawer, collected what to take if we had to, and listened to the radio for the latest news.
The warnings became more urgent and eventually I had to wake Ange, who wasn't pleased. We packed up treasures – an interesting selection which turned out to be minimal. The only items that we would not abandon to the coming deluge amounted to photographs, documents, my collected works, and a 21st birthday scrapbook, which says something for life's deep down values.
Ange piled everything from the floor of her room onto the bed in a mountainous shambles, hoping that the water wouldn't rise that far, although the nature of tsunamis indicated otherwise. We filled the car with containers of water, blankets and extra clothes, and whatever food we could find that didn’t need cooking. We were ready to head for the hills.
What about the cats? They would have to fend for themselves, we couldn’t put all three in one cage. And they would disappear if we let them out, and we couldn’t keep them shut up for what could be two or three days. Perhaps much longer if the waves had really pounded over and destroyed the house. We couldn’t put leads on them either, we didn’t have any. I said that they could shelter on the roof, and if they drowned, so be it.
The wave came rushing in and then out, all five centimetres of it. We unpacked the car and Ange went back to sleep on top of the detritus she had piled on her bed. A bit of an anti-climax then.
But here’s the thing: all those people grizzling about the noise of the siren being tested might be glad of it when the real thing happens.