National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
public affairs officer, demonstrates one of many
widely available NOAA weather radios, recommended
for placement in homes and schools, Saturday in
Hilo. - William Ing/Tribune-Herald
Ready for a tsunami?
Know what to do when the next
BurnettA banner on
the front of the historic Kress Building invited folks inside
for a free "Tsunami Safe" Disaster Preparedness Fair on
The event, at the Connections Public Charter
School in Hilo, was organized by the county Planning
Department, the school and the Pacific Tsunami Museum. It was
a treasure trove of information on how to prepare for a
tsunami, with tsunami displays, "talk story" sessions with
tsunami survivors, and tsunami experts on hand to answer
questions. April is "Tsunami Awareness
Ironically, the fair, like the tsunami museum a
few doors down the street, was located in "Tsunami Central,"
an area devastated by killer waves in 1946 and 1960.
was just looking at the map over there, seeing where we're to
go if we have to evacuate," quipped Doug Connors of Paauilo,
who perused the displays along with Sue Dela Cruz and her
10-year-old son, Andy, as they awaited the start of a movie at
the Kress Cinemas upstairs.
"It's a great place to learn more about
tsunamis," Connors said. "Actually, we were looking at this
picture of the ... train as it ran across the Bayfront, and we
thought there were more houses down here. But I guess there
wasn't. There were only houses in front of the area where
we're at right now."
Asked if he was aware that trains
once served downtown Hilo, Connors replied, "I knew there was
a train here. I didn't know that it ran right on the
Robert "Steamy" Chow, 86, a downtown Hilo
historian, knew about the trains on Bayfront. He was a police
officer when the 1946 tsunami hit Hilo. When somebody told him
that a giant wave had inundated downtown, he remembered that
it was April 1 and thought he was being set up for an April
Chow said he soon he realized it was no
joke when he discovered the downtown railroad depot had been
destroyed, along with a railroad bridge.
"The railroad depot was completely
demolished, like a bulldozer ran through it," Chow
Indeed, 159 people were killed that day by the
tsunami, caused by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake near the
Aleutian Islands. Another tsunami, which was caused by a
magnitude 9.5 earthquake in Chile, slammed Hilo again on May
23, 1960, killing 61.
Chow said he believes many
tsunami deaths could be avoided.
"A lot of people, they
want to see a tsunami, so they want to get as close as they
can to the shoreline," he said. "That's a no-no. When the wave
comes in, people have a tendency to get stage fright. They
pause for a second and then run, but by then it's too
Nathan Becker, a geophysicist and forecaster
with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Oahu, said the
center has state-of-the-art equipment to monitor potential
tsunami threats. DART, which is short for Deep Ocean
Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis, is "a pressure-type
system that sits on the sea floor" and gives scientists a
better idea of how big waves will be and which direction
DART, of course, works best for
Pacific-wide tsunami warnings, when the threat is from
earthquakes far away. There are some cases, Becker explained,
where providing man-made warnings are impossible, such as when
the tsunami is locally-generated. That was the case with the
Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami caused by a magnitude 9 earthquake off
Sumatra, which killed more than 500,000 people living along
the Indian Ocean coastline.
"If you're on the shoreline
on this island when there's a big earthquake, you need to get
out of there," Becker noted.
Roxane Stewart, a science
teacher Ke Ana La'ahana Charter School in Keaukaha who is
working with Pacific Tsunami Museum on a curriculum project,
found in her research of "very old chants" that Hawaiians were
aware of tsunamis in pre-Western contact times.
started off this morning with a chant I composed for the
tsunami deities that actually live right outside of our pali
kai, right outside of our breakwall over there, just to let
them know what we're doing here," she said.
tsunamis can be found on the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning
Center's Web site at http://www.prh.noaa.gov/ptwc/.
Media's Jim Quirk contributed. John Burnett can be reached at
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