Tsunami Past

Hilo’s Tsunami Past

In recent years the world has been made shockingly aware what devastation and destruction can occur when earthquakes trigger tsunami. Traveling at the speeds of a jet aircraft, these waves are very difficult to track and advance warnings to possible victims can be a challenge even in this digital age.

The Hawaiian Islands have had their share of tsunami. Hilo was rocked by a series of waves in the middle of the day on April 1 1946 as a result of a massive earthquake in the Aleutian Islands. The series of waves arrived in middle of the day while schools were in session and many were out and about. Hilo suffered about 150 casualties that April day.

On May 23, 1960 Hilo was again rocked by a series of waves. This time the epicenter of the 9.5 magnitude earthquake near Valdivia Chile at a little after 7 pm GMT. The series of waves began arriving without warning at about 13 hours after the earthquake and lasted over several hours. Wave heights were estimated up to thirty-five feet high arrived in the middle of the night taking lives of many who were asleep in their beds. The resulting damage wiped out the entire area from the along Hilo’s bay front to where the buildings stand today along Kamehameha Avenue. The tsunami claimed 61 lives that night.

Today, there is still evidence of Hilo’s tsunami tragedies. Visitors can visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum located in the heart of historical downtown Hilo along Kamehameha Avenue. The facility serves a dual purpose. The first is to collect and display all artifacts that are associated with Hilo’s tsunami history and the other is community outreach designed to educate and inform students, residents and area businesses.