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Not panicking in paradise: Minnesotans report from tsunami scene in Hawaii

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news Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

MAUI, Hawaii -- It wasn't exactly how Chris Oleske and her fiancé, Nick Van Pelt, expected to spend their last day in paradise.

At 5 a.m. Friday in Hawaii -- 9 a.m. Worthington time -- Oleske and Van Pelt and the rest of their traveling party were sitting in their rental car on a road above their resort on Maui, waiting out the arrival of the pending tsunami.

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"We're just on the road about a quarter of a mile up the road from our resort," reported Oleske via cell phone. "We're probably 200 feet above sea level. There are hundreds and hundreds of cars on the side of the road."

Oleske, the daughter of Matt and Cheri Oleske of Worthington who now lives in St. Louis Park and works for Wells Fargo Bank, and the rest of her party were in Maui to attend the destination wedding of friends. They arrived last Saturday and were scheduled to depart for the mainland at 11 p.m. Hawaii time on Friday.

Because of rain earlier in the week, the wedding reception luau had been delayed until Thursday night, and the Minnesotans heard about the earthquake in Japan when they returned to their hotel room after the luau.

"We were just sitting in our room, and we saw on TV that the earthquake had hit in Japan an hour before," Oleske related. "It was probably about 9 p.m. here. Then, all of a sudden, they said there was a tsunami watch for Hawaii, and we didn't know what that meant. So we just sat and watched, and pretty soon it turned into a warning and said that everyone's going to get evacuated."

At that time, officials were estimating the tsunami would hit Maui at about 3 a.m., and the plan was to evacuate starting at midnight.

"We were ready to leave," Oleske said. "The sirens started going off at the resort to get everyone out, and we were all ready to go."

Oleske reported that members of her party -- and the hundreds of other people who had sought refuge on higher ground -- were all in good spirits, despite the uncertainty of their situation. As Oleske talked on the phone, another member of the group heard that an eight-foot wave was striking the island at that moment, but they couldn't see or hear anything to indicate that was the case.

"We're just hunkered down in our car," Oleske said. "We've got a grocery bag full of food and a cooler full of water. They did let some people leave and go back to the resort, but we don't think it's safe yet. We feel safe here."

The biggest issues for the Minnesotans were the lack of bathroom facilities and the light on the dash of the car indicating that the rental vehicle was close to being out of fuel. They had yet to call the airlines to find out the status of their flight later in the day.

Because they were leaving so late in the day, the Minnesotans had planned to spend their last day on the beach that was at the moment likely being pounded by tsunami waves.

"We were going to have a relaxing day," Oleske said. "We didn't want to plan anything because we fly out at 11. It was going to be a beach day, maybe do some paddle boarding, just chill on the beach, hang out. I don't think that's going to work out now."

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