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Reflect on a Disaster on Your Hawaii Vacation

Back in 1946, a tsunami struck the Hawaiian Islands.

There had been no warning to Hawaii as the Tsunami Warning System had not yet been established, and the tsunami was extremely damaging throughout the islands. It was especially devastating to the Island of Hawaii.

The town of Hilo on the island of Hawaii was struck by a series of six to seven large tsunami waves in 15-20 minute intervals. The highest of those waves had a run-up height of 30 feet above sea level. The waves completely destroyed Hilo’s waterfront, killing 159 people. Every house on the main street facing Hilo Bay was ripped off its foundation and carried across the street crashing against buildings on the other side.

Today, the Pacific Tsunami Museum, in downtown Hilo, offers stark evidence of the power of tsunamis that have hit Hilo and the rest of the Pacific Basin. The Museum is located just across the street from Hilo Bay. A live webcam keeps its electronic eye on the bay to watch for Tsunamis, and there’s an evacuation plan conspicuously posted as you come in since the Museum is within the tsunami zone in Hilo. Hey, there’s actually nothing to worry about. With all the monitoring going on within the Pacific now, you would have sufficient warning. If a tsunami were to be headed toward the islands, there would be plenty of time to move to higher ground. Tsunamis are generated by earthquakes elsewhere in the Pacific. (An earthquake in Hawaii might generate a tsunami headed outwards.)

The museum has a series of in-house permanent exhibits that interpret the tsunami phenomena, the Pacific Tsunami Warning system, the history of tsunamis in the Pacific Basin, tsunamis of the future, myths and legends about tsunamis, and public safety measures for tsunami disasters.

The Museum is certainly worth your time if your vacation plans include the Big Island. (Hilo is on the east coast.) It’s open every day between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. There’s an admission fee of $7.00; seniors pay $6.00 and kids are just $2.00.

Most of the exhibits are a mix of photographs, text and some video. Some of the videos are kind of long, but really interesting for anyone with any interest in earthquakes and tsunamis. As you watch the videos detailing the tsunami destruction in Hilo, you can look out the windows of the museum and imagine the damage and destruction around you.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher on Apr 29, 2009