By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
Prior to December 26, 2004 I had never heard the term tsunami. Watching film as the walls of water from the Indian Ocean swept thousands to their deaths was almost too much to comprehend.
Caused by a 9.0 earthquake in the Indian ocean off the West coast of Sumatra it had the energy of thousands of atomic bombs. Within hours killer waves slammed into the coast line of eleven countries from East Africa to Thailand, traveling thousands of miles, they destroyed cities and killed an estimated 227,898 people.
That said, let me tell you of the great L.A. tsunami. Many, many years prior I was working Metro; a bachelor living the good life in Hollywood. As I recall it was hot. Summer? Who can tell in LA? It was morning and I was scheduled to work that night. The call from the office told me to report ASAP in Class A uniform, emergency and bring your rain boots. Rain boots??
An hour later I was on one of many buses rolling out of the main police building. We were briefed as we went. My partner could not be found so I was paired with a non-Metro officer who I do not know and who was probably scooped up when they were frantically looking for blue suits. The non-Metro sergeant told us a major earthquake in the far Western Pacific near Hawaii had produced a large tidal wave which was expected to hit the LA coastline at an unknown time—time estimates kept changing.
Now the rain boots made sense of course. A massive wall of water is about to hit the city and I had a pair of boots which end at mid-calf. Sure. Why not?
We were to locate and warn as many people as possible and to provide assistance as necessary. They dropped my partner and I together with the sergeant at some small boat marina. We were on foot, no vehicle and no radio, no method of communication. The sergeant tells us to spend not more than one hour warning as many people as possible and then get out, find high ground.
“High Ground?” We were at the beach for God’s sake and we didn’t have a car. Assuming the boat house or whatever will have a P.A. system we head there. The 18-year-old minding the store said he had to find the owner to get permission for us to use the loud speaker. I told him he has three minutes or else. I have no idea what or else was, but it sounded good. Two minutes later I was on the PA system trying to keep it low key but informing one and all there was trouble coming. The civilian radio had broadcast a warning or warnings earlier in the day. When I was finished with the PA several people on the docks looked in our direction and then went on about their business. One middle aged lady actually came into the office and wanted to know if we were really policemen.
Within the hour we joined the sergeant on the roof of a nearby two-story building.
We waited for the magic hour as it approached, then passed. Nothing, absolutely nothing. The buses finally picked us up and we went back down town in silence feeling for all the world like fools. Nobody knew anything. At the office we were told the wave slowed and then died somewhere in mid Pacific—they thought.
I took my boots and went home.