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Perham couple married in Hawaii as tsunami struck

Submitted photos Clyde and Donna Stephens, owners of Visions Glass in Perham, were married in Hawaii just three days before the earthquake and tsunami.1 / 2
At Waikiki, the surf went out up to 300 feet the day after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.2 / 2

A romantic Hawaiian wedding turned into a frightening waiting game for Clyde and Donna Stephens of Visions Glass in Perham.

Three days after the wedding, the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit the island of Japan, prompting warnings for the Hawaiian Islands. The Stephens, who were married on March 7, were staying in Waikiki on the island of Oahu.

The Stephens were outside grilling dinner when they received word that the tsunami was headed for Hawaii. Clyde said they had a five to six hour warning before the tsunami was predicted to hit.

"We had no idea what to expect," he said. "No idea of what was coming. Nobody knew what to expect. Nobody had an answer."

With no hope of flying out of Hawaii, as the airport was closed, Clyde and Donna decided to take matters into their hands.

"We put all of our luggage in the trunk of our rental car and evacuated," Clyde said. "Forty-five minutes later we were up 3,000 feet at Pali lookout point."

The newlyweds spent the next 12 hours on higher ground, sleeping in the car overnight. By midnight, the lookout was "jam-packed with cars," Clyde said.

By 3:30 a.m., the tsunami had reached Oahu.

The gentle hum of the ocean was replaced by crashing waves, with the surf going out 1.5 miles then surging back in, Clyde said.

The next morning it was cool and rainy, but the overnight guests at the lookout point were given the OK to return to the hotel around 9 a.m.

"When we got back to the hotel, we saw everything was okay," Clyde said.

However, the ocean continued to swell out and in about 300 yards every 10 minutes.

"I've never seen anything like that before," Clyde, who's been to Hawaii before, said. "It was eerie."

Guests were cautioned not to go in the water, but that didn't stop surfers.

Luckily, Clyde said, Waikiki is flat and probably the best place to be in that situation.

Most of the damage reported on the Hawaiian Islands was in the northeast and northwest. Clyde said that while U.S. Naval ships may have gotten out in time, many boats that remained in the harbors were damaged by the surges, sometimes toppling them over completely.

"From the reports we heard, there was stuff that has never been seen before," Clyde said.

The Stephens left Hawaii on Friday night (March 11) after the airport had reopened.

"As we left, I heard that Maui had an 11-foot surge just after we had left," Clyde said. "The ocean was still moving."

It was an experience they'll never forget, they say.

"It was an overwhelming, unforgettable vacation," Clyde said. "I guess God didn't want us to forget."

While the couple is thankful to have not been drastically impacted by the natural disasters, Clyde said he feels for the Japanese that remain in Hawaii and are unable to get home.

"There was tens of thousands of Japanese there vacationing," Clyde said. "The really sad thing is there were a lot of Japanese there and they can't go home yet."