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Three tsunamis that changed Hilo and Hawaii's Big Island


November 29, 1975

Time struck: 3:35 a.m. (Hawaii Standard Time)
Source of tsunami: 7.2 magnitude earthquake off the southeastern coast of Big Island of Hawaii.
Maximum wave height: 26 feet
Damages: $1.4 million ($5.6 million today)
Deaths: 2 people

This tsunami was caused by the largest locally-generated earthquake in recorded Hawaii history. Damages in Hilo were mostly limited to overturned boats, and the city's downtown bayfront spared from a wave. The most damage occurred in coastal towns along the Big Island's southeastern coast and Halape Beach Park in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, approximately 19 miles from the earthquake’s offshore epicenter.

At the time of the earthquake, 32 campers were overnighting at Halape, a remote beach park with a large grove of coconut trees near the base of a high cliff. The movement of the earth and the sound of rocks falling down the cliff awakened campers who began heading to the beach. At the beach, they were met by two tsunami waves—the first one 5 feet, the next one 26 feet—that pushed them into an inland ditch near the base of the cliff, where they were tossed about by the churning surf.

Portions of the Halape coastline, including the coconut grove where a few campers took shelter, subsided into the ocean permanently. Two campers died.

Photos: Hilo evacuation area sinage, David Croxford (pg. 1, top), Hilo Bay, Google Maps (pg. 1, bottom), 1946 tsunami, NOAA (pg. 2), Hilo bayfront damages after 1960 tsunami, U.S. Navy (pg. 3), Halape coconut grove shortly after 1975 earthquake and tsunami, USGS (pg. 4)

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