Survivor Narratives: 2010

Prepared… and Spared

The Tsunami of February 27, 2010

Lighthouse withdrawal

Hilo Bay Lighthouse (Kaipalaoa Landing) tsunami withdrawal.

Lighthouse surge

Hilo Bay Lighthouse (Kaipalaoa Landing) tsunami surge.

Bridge Withdrawal

Wailuku Bridge withdrawal.

Bridge Surge

Wailuku Bridge surge.
Photo sets courtesy of Genevieve Cain Robison.

On Friday, February 26, 2010 at 8:34 p.m. Hawai'i time, an 8.8 (moment) magnitude earthquake shook Santiago, Chile. The earthquake occurred in the same area as the 9.5 1960 earthquake that produced a devastating tsunami Pacific-wide. On Saturday, February 27 at 12:46 a.m. Hawai'i time, a tsunami warning was issued after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) determined that a tsunami had been generated. The scientists there used coastal gauges, deepwater pressure sensors, and computer modeling to estimate the size of waves that would strike shores.

Preparations began to evacuate coastal areas well in advance of the arrival of the first wave, estimated to be shortly after 11 a.m. The sirens to begin evacuation were sounded at 6 a.m. and hourly after that. The public was to be cleared from the mapped coastal zones.

Hilo International Airport was closed so that Keaukaha residents could evacuate via the runways. Hilo Harbor and beach parks were closed. There was a concerted effort by Civil Defense, police, fire, National Guard, Coast Guard, and volunteers to alert, mobilize and protect the public from potentially large tsunami waves. The tsunami was smaller than expected, with the first wave arriving at about 11:05 a.m. According to the PTWC, the tsunami created a 2.8 foot surge in Hilo Harbor, but there were no reports of property damage or injuries. Strong currents continued for hours in bays.

Some people ask why the tsunami was (thankfully) smaller than expected. Anne Sheehan, a geologist from the University of Colorado-Boulder, said, "It was a truly enormous 'megathrust' earthquake, shallow and offshore. That kind of earthquake can generate a large tsunami if it displaces a large area of seafloor vertically (either up or down). It could be that more of the earthquake displacement was at depth below the seafloor, and did not rupture the seafloor surface as much as was expected given the size and depth of the earthquake. It was truly an enormous earthquake in terms of energy release, the largest in the world since the 2004 Sumatra earthquake and the fifth largest since 1900."

Preparations at the Museum meant that irreplaceable items were already stored off-site. Within the Museum we packed up our current records to take out of the zone. After the all-clear, it was such a relief to return to our perfectly intact Museum. How thankful we should all be that the tsunami was a small one!

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Last Revised August 2013