A history of fatal Tsunamis in Hawaii

Tsunami Awareness Month

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Experts say it’s only a matter of time before the next deadly tsunami hits Hawaii. One way people can prepare is by taking lessons from the past.

“A tsunami can happen at any time… and as one survivor tells me, it may take some time before you see any major impacts,” said Jeanne Branch Johnston, Pacific Tsunami Museum co-founder.

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Jeanne Branch Johnston was only 6 years old when the 1946 tsunami hit Hilo.

“That morning I woke up and I heard some horns honking. We went out to see what was going on. Well, what had happened is I was the first wave had come in and going out very quietly, and the they disrupted the Red Ants,” said Johnston: “So the red ants started biting my brothers feet, so we went into the house. And fortunately because the next wave came.”

“We looked at the back window, and the wave was up to the top of the clothesline, which would be about five feet,” said Johnston.

After the second wave receded, her uncle came to evacuate them to higher ground. They ran inward toward the airport as the third wave came in.

“As the water came in, it came up through the rocks is so you can see, we’re walking on these lava rocks, and the water was coming up,” said Johnston.

They got to safety and waited it out. However, when Jeanne finally got home that night, she saw trees and debris scattered all around her house and the town.

“We could have died that day. And that if it wasn’t for those red ants and going back into the house, we conceivably could have died.”

Jeanne Branch Johnston, Pacific Tsunami Museum Co-Founder

While Jeanne and her brother were fortunate, others were not. 159 people throughout the state lost their lives to that tsunami.

A few years later in 1960 another tsunami hit, killing 61 people in Hilo.

“You should always be prepared for any hazard, but definitely a tsunami hazard, you know. And if you’re close to the coast, it doesn’t it doesn’t hurt to evacuate,” said Johnston. “It’s better to be safe than, than to lose your life.”

Founders of the Pacific Tsunami Museum say that more people have died from tsunamis in the state than hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

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