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Three tsunamis that changed Hilo and Hawaii's Big Island


April 1, 1946

Time struck: 6:54 a.m. (Hawaii Standard Time)
Source of tsunami: 7.1 magnitude earthquake in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Maximum wave height: 50 feet
Damages: $26 million ($300 million today)
Deaths: 159

This tsunami struck Hilo Bay in a succession of seven waves for a duration of 15 minutes. The downtown area of Hilo was torn apart and flooded by the massive wave. However, the brunt of the tsunami was felt by a bayfront residential community called Shinmachi, or “new town.” The entire district was washed away except for a Coca-Cola bottling plant. Residents rebuilt Shinmachi in the same area, which would prove disastrous with the arrival of the next major Hilo tsunami 14 years later.

The April 1, 1946 wave also struck the Hamakua Coast town of Laupahoehoe, killing 25 people including students and teachers whose school was located on Laupahoehoe Point.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration photo above shows the tsunami cresting over Hilo Harbor's Pier 1. The man designated by the arrow was one of the wave's fatalities.

The loss of life prompted the establishment of a territory-wide Tsunami Warning System in 1948.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
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