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These days, scientist and inventors have collaborated to develop early warning systems for just about any possible disaster, and when everything works as it should, and people heed the warnings, loss of life can often be avoided. Having the technology is great, but technology can’t make human beings do the right things…unfortunately. On May 22, 1960, twelve years after tsunami warnings were developed, and with the warning system in good working order, a massive 9.5 earthquake struck off the coast of Chili. It was the largest earthquake ever recorded. Unfortunately, we don’t really have an earthquake warning, and so without warning, 1655 people lost their lives in Chili and 3,000 injured in the quake. Two million people were made homeless, and damage was estimated at $550 million. The earthquake, involving a severe plate shift, caused a large displacement of water off the coast of southern Chile at 3:11pm. Traveling at speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour, the tsunami moved west and north. On the west coast of the United States, the waves caused an estimated $1 million in damages, but were not deadly. Everyone assumed that the worst was over.

Nevertheless, warnings were sent to the Hawaiian islands. The Pacific Tsunami Warning System properly and warnings were issued to Hawaiians six hours before the wave’s expected arrival. The response of some people, however, was reckless and irresponsible. Some people ignored the warnings, and others actually headed to the coast in order to view the wave. Arriving 15 hours after the quake, only a minute after predicted, the tsunami destroyed Hilo Bay, on the island of Hawaii. Thirty five foot waves bent parking meters to the ground and wiped away most buildings, destroying or damaging more than 500 homes and businesses. A 10 ton tractor was swept out to sea. Reports indicate that the 20 ton boulders making up the sea wall were moved 500 feet. Sixty-one people died in Hilo, the worst-hit area of the island chain. Damage was estimated at $75 million. This tsunami caused little damage elsewhere in the islands, where wave heights were in the 3-17 foot range. The tsunami continued to race further west across the Pacific. Ten thousand miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter. Japan, received warning, but wasn’t able to warn the people in harm’s way. At about 6pm, more than a day after the quake, the tsunami hit the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. The crushing wave killed 180 people, left 50,000 more homeless and caused $400 million in damages. The Philippines, also hit, saw 32 people dead or missing.

Tsunami warnings definitely save lives, but only if people will heed the warnings. As long as people decide that the warning doesn’t apply to them, and give in to their curiosity to go have a look, there will continue to be deaths. It seems a great shame that inventors and scientist work so hard to make a warning to save lives, and then some people refuse to do what is necessary to be safe after they have been warned. I simply don’t understand how people can ignore these warnings and take a chance with their lives.

When most of us think about April Fool’s Day, we think of playing some funny prank on our family or friends, but on April Fool’s Day 1946, the Earth played a prank, if it could be called that, on Hawaii. It was a prank that wasn’t funny, and it would claim the lives of 159 people. Early in the morning of that April Fool’s Day, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck in the North Pacific, 13,000 feet beneath the ocean surface, and off Unimak Island in the Aleutian chain, that makes up the tail of Alaska. The quake triggered devastating tidal waves throughout the Pacific, and particularly aimed at Hawaii. The first tidal wave hit Unimak Island shortly after the quake struck. The wave was estimated to be almost 100 feet, and it crashed into a lighthouse 30 feet above sea level. Five people lived in the lighthouse. It was smashed to pieces, and all five were killed instantly. The wave then headed toward the Southern Pacific at 500 miles per hour. The situation was like a freight train carrying an atomic bomb.

Hawaii was 2,400 miles south of the quake’s epicenter, and Captain Wickland of the United States Navy was the first person to spot the coming wave at about 7:00am, four and a half hours after the quake struck in the Aleutian Islands. His position on the bridge of a ship, 46 feet above sea level, put him at eye level with a “monster wave” that he described as two miles long. The first wave came in and receded, then the water in Hilo Bay seemed to disappear. The boats that were docked there, settled on the sea floor, surrounded by flopping fish. Then…the second wave hit…and it was massive!! The city of Hilo was hit by a 32 foot wave that devastated the town. Nearly a third of the city was completely destroyed. The bridge that crossed the Wailuku River was picked up by the wave, and pushed 300 feet away. In Hilo, 96 people lost their lives in the tsunami. Other parts of Hawaii were hit even worse. In some places, the waves reached heights of 60 feet. A schoolhouse in Laupahoehoe was crushed by the tsunami, killing the teacher and 25 students inside.

The massive wave was seen as far away as Chile, where, 18 hours after the quake near Alaska, unusually large waves crashed ashore, but there were no casualties. This tsunami prompted the United States to establish the Seismic SeaWave Warning System two years later, which is now known as the Pacific Tsunami Warning System. It uses undersea buoys throughout the ocean, in combination with seismic-activity detectors, to find possible killer waves. The warning system was used for the first time on November 4, 1952. That day, an evacuation was successfully carried out, but the expected wave never materialized. Still, like the fire drills we all know about from school, maybe Tsunami Drills wouldn’t be a bad thing either, especially if it would prevent the kind of loss of life that Hawaii experienced on that awful April Fool’s Day in 1946.

Hilo tsunami 2Most of us think of April 1st as April Fools Day…a day recognized all over the world as a day set aside to pull pranks, hoaxes, and practical jokes on your friends neighbors and co-workers. I can remember many pranks pulled by my sisters, my parents, and me over the years. But, not everything that happens on April 1st can be considered a funny joke…as was the case on April 1, 1946, when a 7.4 magnitude earthquake was recorded in the North Pacific Ocean off of Unimak Island. The island is a part of the Aleutian chain in Alaska. When the earthquake struck, in the middle of the night, 13,000 feet beneath the surface of the ocean, a devastating tidal wave immediately hit the nearest land…Unimak Island. The wave estimated at 100 feet high, crashed into a lighthouse located 30 feet above sea level, where a five people lived. The lighthouse was smashed and the people living inside were killed instantly. They had no warning of impending disaster and death.

The Wave then headed toward Hawaii, at 500 miles an hour. Hawaii was 2,400 miles south of the epicenter. Hilo tsunami 1Captain Wickland of the United States Navy spotted the coming wave at about 7am…four and a half hours after the quake. Wickland’s position on the bridge was 46 feet above sea level, and he said he was eye level with a “monster wave” that was two miles long. I can only imagine how he must have felt looking at that wave. The word helpless is the first word to come to my mind. As the wave came into Hilo Bay, the water first receded, leaving ships on the sea floor beside fish flopping in the sand. Then, the tsunami struck full force. The wave was 32 feet high, and it completely destroyed about a third of the city. The Wailuku River bridge was picked up and relocated 300 feet from it’s original position. In Hilo, 96 people lost their lives. Other parts of Hawaii were hit by waves up to 60 feet. In Laupahoehoe, a schoolhouse was crush, killing the teacher and 25 students. The tsunami was seen as far away as Chili, where unusually high waves crashed ashore 18 hours after the earthquake hit. There were no casualties were reported there.

The tsunami brought to light a need for some kind of a warning system. The warning system, called the Seismic SeaWave Warning System was established two years later. It is now known as the Pacific Tsunami Hilo tsunami 3Warning System, and it uses undersea buoys throughout the ocean, along with seismic activity detectors to predict killer waves. The system is still in use, and has warned many people in time to get to safety. Nevertheless, on its first use…November 4, 1952, the people evacuated successfully, but the wave never materialized. I suppose that could have been listed as a successful failure, but in that case, it wasn’t about whether or not the wave came, but rather, if it did, that the people were safely away. A system like this one can’t save everyone. I’m sure that some waves just get to land too quickly, but every life saved matters. The April Fools Day tsunami was on April 1st, but no one would call it a joke… and that’s for sure.

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