Some 12 hours after the tsunami hit Hawaii shores, Gov. Neil Abercrombie issued an emergency proclamation that will help the state get money from Washington, speed up the rebuilding process and, if need be, call on the National Guard.

The governor made the decision after hearing from civil defense officials and Cabinet members, who are still consulting with government and private groups across the state about the extent of damage.

Damage from the tsunami is expected to total in the millions, the governor said, and the estimate late Friday is that the cost to state property alone is at least $3 million.

Collapsed piers, sunken boats, submerged cars, slammed harbors, clogged lagoons, broken seawalls, flooded buildings, rubble-strewn beaches, ruined fishponds and historic places — even homes that floated away.

“A lot of sad stories,” said Ed Teixeira, vice director of Hawaii State Civil Defense, particularly on the Big Island, which suffered the most damage of all the islands and is still mending from the 2006 earthquake off the Kailua-Kona coast.

Teixeira said there are indications that a wave at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island was 15-feet high, over twice the height of waves that hit elsewhere in the island chain.

Still, Hawaii was “fortunate” — Abercrombie’s word — especially as compared with Japan. Thus far there have been no reports of casualties.

At the press conference Friday afternoon to announce the emergency proclamation, Abercrombie credited the professionalism of government officials, thanked television and radio for getting the word out and expressed confidence that the state was prepared for the worst.

“It’s a remarkably positive statement about Hawaii and its people,” he said.

Afterwards, a member of the administration told Civil Beat that the governor “was on fire” throughout the night, running meetings and coordinating communication with a strong sense of command. In the press conference, the governor gave the impression of being the leader of a team who was quick to credit all the players for making things run right.

It was a slightly different profile in leadership than Abercrombie’s many television appearances Thursday and Friday. In those, it seemed he repeated himself and looked tired.

He could even sound alarmist, saying things like, “There’s a tsunami coming. Make no mistake about that. It’s coming.” Compare that with Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, who came off as measured and calm — much like former Gov. Linda Lingle did during the 2006 quake.

“Don’t necessarily believe that the worst is going to happen, but prepare as if the worst is going to happen,” Carlisle told TV viewers.

But for all of Abercrombie’s bluster and bombast, his razor-sharp wit and tongue, his offensive and defensive verbal skills, there is a soft touch about the man, a genuine compassion for his fellow human beings. Now that he leads them, that characteristic has become pronounced.

Most of the public was probably unaware that the 72-year-old governor had a full day yesterday, including meeting with departments and employees and confronting what would have been the lead story of the day — the budget deficit that was revised upwards to nearly $1 billion — had it not been for the Japanese earthquake.

The governor spent 5-6 p.m. talking about the budget challenge on Hawaii Public Radio and then another 90 minutes answering the questions of Moiliili residents at a community meeting. He was in excellent form for both, and relished being in his element.

(Ironically, the governor said that people complaining about some of his budget-cutting ideas were analogous to people complaining about water temperature when a tsunami was on the way — a fiscal tsunami, of course.)

Abercrombie finished the Moiliili meeting around 8 p.m. — just minutes after the earthquake struck.

At the press conference, Abercrombie said the disaster made him think of Hurricane Iniki in 1992, when it seemed the storm would strike Oahu but turned suddenly and instead destroyed Kauai.

“That’s how I felt last night, as it came up to 3 a.m, and staring and seeing those images from Japan — it took your breath away to observe what happened there and to think what might happen here,” he said. “Paradise was almost reborn from awful possibilities.”

But this time, instead of being a congressman who would issue press releases and later tour the damage, Neil Abercrombie was on call at all times. He said he and officials throughout the state spoke in real time — for 12 straight hours. They also watched the same TV images that everyone else was watching: the floodlit beaches and points.

“It gave us a good idea what was going on,” he said.

The governor said he was given a 15-point “game plan.” Civil Defense convened all the appropriate people, and then, as the governor said, “everyone started going bang-bang-bang.”

Abercrombie said he and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz watched the emergency preparations process unfold, confident that the state was prepared to meet “any contingencies.”

Over the course of the night, the governor made multiple references to “aloha,” as in a statement released just after midnight that read in part, “This is a time to be sensible and act with aloha. Please be mindful of your neighbors, especially for the elderly who may need kokua at this time.”

He finished his press conference that way as well.

“We understand aloha, kinship,” he said. “There were no arguments, no grandstanding. Nobody got irritated with anybody.”

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