Wailoa River

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Gabriel Manning was close to the Hilo Iron Works building during the 1946 tsunami. He was up on the roof by the cranes when the tsunami began, and he witnessed many events unfold from his high vantage point. People being swept away, buildings collapsing, the railroad tracks being pulled up and twisted along with the train cars being derailed. He saw someone on the roof of a nearby building fall into the water as it collapsed. A car was thrown into the Wailoa Bridge with its driver still inside. He noticed all the sampan boats from the river going out into the bay with the receding water, and a larger boat from the pier trying to reach the safety of deeper waters. As a wave came in it flung a large steel door, under the crane, into the building almost up to the crane hook itself. An older woman was washed inland before she was able to run away, and a young girl was washed straight through a building until someone was able to grab her. He also saw the entire river and bay water recede out past the breakwater, allowing him to see the tall wall from top to bottom. Then the highest wave came in and went right over the breakwater at about 20 or 30 ft (6.1-9.14 M) high. He could see the wave making its way down to him. He spotted a mango tree that saved many lives, because when their house would hit it, they were able to climb out and take refuge on the tree. When the wave hit the building he was on, it trembled, but held. A 6-ton safe inside the building was pushed through a wall and carried up towards the civic center. Railroad tracks were torn and mangled, and railroad cars were pushed over and carried into the river. “… then we waited. I think we were up that building for about two hours before we could come back down” said Gabriel. The river was still receding and surging but not as high as before so thinking it was safe, he got down and met with a few others. They tried to help a woman with a baby in Shinmachi, but it wasn’t over yet. More waves were still coming, and the group had to run through all the debris to higher ground on Pi’oPi’o street before reaching safety.

During the 1960 tsunami the Wailoa Bridge was a gathering area for people who decided to wait and watch the waves unfold. Warning had been given, but due to several small tsunamis that had occurred, not everyone heeded the warnings. The waves started at 12:30am on Monday March 23rd with the largest wave occurring at 1:04am at a height of 35ft (10.67 M) in some places. The bridge was not spared and some of the spectators didn’t make it. The ones that did have their own unique stories to tell of that night.

The Waltjen Brothers were among the survivors of bridge spectators, but each brother had their own story, having been separated when the waves started to approach. One was swept away by the waves, hanging on to floating debris, the other ran and made it to high ground. They were eventually safely reunited.