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‘Alae Scenic Point is an ideal area to see the entirety of Hilo Bay, from the open ocean, to the breakwater, to the shops in downtown Hilo. It is also a place that allows you to see why Hilo town is so susceptible to tsunamis. The shape of the bay itself is a major reason; it is funnel shaped which can focus the energy of the waves straight into town. Also, the bay shape can create what scientists call the seiche effect, meaning the water will slosh back and forth in the bay sometimes amplifying the incoming tsunami waves. The bay is facing north towards the seismically active Aleutian Islands which are more likely to affect us, but this doesn’t mean tsunamis from other areas of the Pacific can’t hit us, like the deadly tsunami in 1960 from Chile. The breakwater (wall) you see featured in the pictures on the sign is NOT there to protect Hilo from tsunamis, in fact it can make the damage worse. The waves can carry large boulders taken from the wall and transport them into the downtown area, as has been done in the past. The breakwater’s main function is to provide calm waters for ships tying up in Hilo harbor.

 The 1960 tsunami came from Chile in South America and Iris Nitta remembers first hearing the waves. She was in high school at the time and was studying late at night when things were quiet in the family house. She could hear the ocean waves hitting the cliffs, but they didn’t sound right. She told her mom and they looked out towards Hilo and could see the water was receding from the bay. “Then we heard all of the rumbling of the rocks on the ocean bottom, and we could see that there was a large white wave moving into the town.  … it was dark, but we could still see this frothy wave moving in.” They watched as the wave hit the power plant, flashes of blue light occurring as the plant was overtaken and the town below them went dark. After this occurred, they ran out of the house waking the neighbors and wondering about her dad who was in town at work. They lost power for a short time, but it was soon restored and the first thing they heard was a Honolulu radio station DJ saying, “Hilo… Hilo… We’ve lost contact with you… What happened to you? Where’s Hilo? We’ve lost contact with them!”