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Three tsunamis that changed Hilo and Hawaii's Big Island

tsunami_Hilo_Big_Island_HawaiiHAWAII magazine reader Edd Kogan wrote us with a question about the city of Hilo's history with tsunamis:

When were the last three tsunamis that damaged Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii?

You ask, we answer.

Tsunamis—large sea waves generated by earthquakes, underwater landslides and other disturbances—aren’t common occurrences in Hawaii. However, when they do happen, Hilo Bay on the Big Island has often been subject to the worst of their devastating effects. The funnel-like underwater shape of Hilo's bayfront amplifies the incoming waves creating larger heights, stronger inland surges. Case in point, Hilo Bay (pictured below) received wave heights reaching 35 feet during a May 1960 tsunami that struck the Islands, while other areas of Hawaii reported wave heights of 3 to 17 feet.

Hawaii experienced at least one damaging tsunami every 12 years between 1837 and 1975—but none causing any significant damage in the last 35 years.

tsunami_Hilo_Big_Island_HawaiiThough rare in Hawaii, tsunamis have taken more lives here than all other local disasters combined. The Pacific Tsunami Museum was established in Hilo in 1994 to commemorate the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis, but has since expanded to include public education and a broad archive of tsunami photos, video, history and oral histories. It now serves as a monument to all those who lost their lives in past tsunamis. For more information on the museum click here.

According to the Pacific Disaster Center, the last three tsunamis that caused significant damage in Hilo occurred in 1946, 1960 and 1975.

Click on the pages ahead for a look at the tsunamis and their effect on Hilo and the Big Island.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Hawaii tsunami watch lifted, but Big Island beaches closed after Samoa quake
Tsunami damage repaired, the Big Island's Four Seasons Resort Hualalai ready to reopen, April 30
Hawaii retailer Hilo Hattie sold

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