HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaiian Archipelago is typically in a sweet spot in the Pacific Ocean where many storms come by, but they don’t usually hit. Then, there are also tsunamis, volcanoes and human-created disasters to consider.
Over the last few centuries, since the introduction of European and United States record keeping, there have been a few disasters that have wreaked havoc on the islands.
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1. Captain Cook‘s arrival led to the near destruction of the islands’ kānaka maoli populations. In 1778, when Cook and his ship entourage arrived on the shores of Kauaʻi, the populations of the islands were estimated to be between 400,000 and one million with many landing on approximately 600,000.
By 1780, it is estimated that 1-in-17 kanaka maoli died. By 1800, the kānaka maoli population was reduced by 48%. By 1820, it had declined by 71%; and by 1840 the population had been reduced by 84%. The deaths were due to diseases that Europeans had developed over millennia. So, when the two groups came into contact, kānaka maoli had no immunity to the sicknesses that spread. Others were murdered as Europeans attempted to assert their dominance.
Cook was murdered not too long after his initial encounter with kānaka maoli.
2. Pearl Harbor was bombed by aircraft from Japan on Dec. 7, 1941. This changed lives throughout the world forever. Japan’s move from isolation to being on the international stage in the early 1800s left a nation in chaos as leaders moved the pre-technology society forward.
When the bombs hit Pearl Harbor, the United States made the decision to enter World War II. Outside of pandemics and wars, the Pearl Harbor bombing saw some of the most carnage of any U.S. event. There were 2,403 people who were killed in the bombings; that’s just under 600 fewer than the number who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
3. Pearl Harbor’s West Loch disaster came during WWII as well. According to Navy’s records, several explosions and a “drifting inferno” made this disaster one of the worst to hit Oʻahu. This area was where the military stored ammunition along with military and civilian vessels.
There were 169 fatalities along with 396 who sustained serious injuries. There were 17 amphibious tractors and 8 Howitzers lost in this disaster. However, with this devastation, the military continued on with several successful missions that launched amid this disaster.
4. Hilo was hit by a devastating tsunami in 1946. There were no prior warnings of the earthquake that created the tsunami.
When the tsunami hit, there were 159 people who died and $26 million in property damage. To this day, Laupahoehoe only has 600 residents. This is a far cry from its once booming population of 3,000
5. Hurricane Hiki, formerly known as Hurricane Arle, hit Hawaiʻi in August 1950. It was the very first hurricane to be recorded in modern time to make landfall in the archipelago. There is very little known about this storm as meteorological tools were not advanced and few were available in Hawaiʻi at the time.
The storm was detected south of Hawaiʻi Island on Aug. 13, 1950 from the Honolulu Airport. It hit Hawaiʻi Island on Aug. 14, 1950 with winds up to 150 miles per hour.
6. Hurricane Iwa directly hit Kauaʻi on Nov. 23, 1982. It was a the most destructive storm to hit the archipelago in recorded weather history, according to WeatherBug. This storm’s eye landed over Kauaʻi with winds bombarding Niʻihau and Oʻahu.
Exposed live wires, no utilities, urgent evacuations, 30-foot seas and coconut trees flying through the air are just some of the stories told by those who experienced it. Winds got up to 120 miles per hour leaving hundreds houseless and thousands of buildings damaged.
7. A major Kīlauea Volcanic Eruption occurred on Jan. 3, 1983 and finally subsided on April 30, 2018. The eruption lasted for 35 years and is considered the longest and most voluminous known outpouring of lava from Kīlauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone in more than 500 years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Basalt lava can travel at a pace of 10 to 30 miles per hour. When Kīlauea erupted, it ended up destroying more than 210 structures, covering 48 square miles of land, burying nine miles of highway and adding 499 acres of land to the Hawaiʻi Island. The volcano was renamed Pu‘u‘ō‘ō to reflect the history of kānaka maoli on Hawaiʻi.
8. Hurricane Iniki caught everyone by surprise on Sept. 11, 1992. Prior to its fateful hit on the archipelago, Hurricane Iniki was ignored by most since it was on a trajectory south. Then, it suddenly changed course.
Winds got up to 200 miles per hour, and the storm caused nearly $3 billion in damages across the state. Surprisingly, most everyone has seen footage of Iniki when it hit. Steven Spielberg and his crew filmed the powerful storm and added it to the final cut of Jurassic Park.
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There were some other disasters that hit Hawaiʻi but did not have the total devastation impact that the above events had.