April is Tsunami Awareness Month

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Kuwahara Store was one of the few structures on the ocean side of Kamehameha Avenue in downtown Hilo to survive the 1946 tsunami. Pacific Tsunami Museum file photo.

April was chosen as Tsunami Awareness Month to honor the 159 lives lost during a massive tsunami generated by an earthquake in Alaska that struck Hawai‘i on April 1, 1946, and caused widespread damage.

A 32-foot wave destroyed almost a third of Hilo. The bridge crossing the Wailuku River was picked up by the wave and pushed 300 feet away. In Hilo, 96 people lost their lives.

On other parts of Hawai‘i Island, waves reached as high as 60 feet.


A schoolhouse in Laupahoehoe was crushed by the tsunami, killing the teacher and 25 students inside.

At 11:45 a.m., on Monday, April 3, outdoor warning sirens sounded statewide. as part of the monthly Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency test.

Students at Haleiwa Elementary School took part in a campus-wide tsunami evacuation drill at that time. More than 220 students, faculty and staff moved calmly and quickly in an orderly fashion to gather near the front entrance to the school for the drill. (Normally, the Joseph P. Leong Highway serves as the school’s evacuation meeting site since it is well out of the tsunami evacuation zone.)


“Evacuation drills are essential when it comes to protecting our children,” said Vern Miyagi, HEMA administrator. “It’s good to know that when our children are away at school they have the skills and mindset needed to react quickly should evacuation become necessary.”

Following the evacuation drill, students proceeded to the school’s cafeteria for a special presentation.

“Seconds count in an actual tsunami event and today’s evacuation drill teaches our students and staff how to properly prepare,” said Hawai‘i State Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.  “Haleiwa Elementary is one of 12 public schools on O‘ahu located within the Tsunami Evacuation Zone and students and faculty must be prepared to leave campus quickly and safely at a moment’s notice to head for higher ground. Across the state, we have 24 public schools located in Tsunami Evacuation Zones.”


The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center headquartered in Pearl Harbor and operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitors seismic data across the Pacific and Indian Oceans to calculate the potential risk of a tsunami.

During a real life tsunami threat, PTWC will distribute messages and statements to the public that interpret the scientific data and advise on the level of risk associated with any given threat.

The public should understand what the different risk levels are and how to respond accordingly:

Warning A potential tsunami with widespread inundation is imminent or expected. Widespread, dangerous coastal flooding accompanied by powerful currents is possible and may continue for several hours after the arrival of the initial wave. Move to higher ground immediately.
Advisory A potential tsunami, which may produce strong currents or waves, exists. Significant widespread inundation is not expected. Stay tuned to local media for emergency guidance.
Watch A potentially dangerous distant seismic event has occurred, which may later impact the watch area with a tsunami. Be ready to take action if a warning is issued.
An earthquake has occurred or a tsunami warning, watch or advisory has been issued for another section of the ocean. In most cases, information statements are issued to indicate there is no threat of a destructive tsunami in your area.

To find out if you live, work or play within a tsunami evacuation zone, turn to the disaster preparedness pages in your local telephone book or enter your address into the Tsunami Evacuation Zone Map Viewer on HI-EMA’s website.

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