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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 31, 2002

State tries to increase tsunami awareness

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

Statistically speaking, we're due.

Big tsunami from distant earthquakes crashed onto Hawai'i shores eight times in the first seven decades of the 1900s, but it's been nearly 40 years since the last one.

Six of those sets of waves rushed inland to 10 feet above sea level. Two kept smashing their way inland until they were 50 feet above sea level and killed dozens of people. Hilo town's lowest areas were hit hard twice, causing the community finally to move development back from Hilo Bay, creating broad coastal parkland.

Agencies charged with protecting the public are using any anniversary they can find to try to keep people alert. Good Friday was the latest anniversary of a wave generated from a distance.

Thirty-eight years ago, in 1964, a tsunami triggered by an Alaskan earthquake rolled in.

"Two generations have grown up here without the experience of a tsunami," said Charles "Chip" McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Based on their frequency during the first two-thirds of the century, there should have been four or five major events during the past 40 years.

During Tsunami Awareness Month in April, Civil Defense officials will be bringing awareness of the risk of catastrophic waves to the public. Their main message: Take a tsunami seriously, and when the warning comes, know where to go and do it quickly.

During the month, schoolchildren will learn about making family emergency plans and will be reminded to check the front pages of the phone book for information on areas that need to be evacuated. Public school students also will view KidScience programs on tsunami from Tuesday through April 9.

The Richard H. Hagemeyer Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in 'Ewa Beach will hold public tours Friday and Saturday mornings throughout the month. Call the center at 689-8207, ext. 300, for reservations.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo will feature "Auntie Donna's Tsunami Stories" at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. each Saturday in April, and has a permanent exhibit on the tsunami devastation in Hilo and elsewhere.

When an earthquake that could generate a tsunami occurs, whether in Alaska, Chile, Japan or within Hawai'i, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center detects it and alerts state Civil Defense, which in turn alerts the counties to launch warnings and coastal evacuations.

The need for the public to be aware of the risks is critical, said Laura Kong, director of the International Tsunami Information Center in Honolulu.

"Tsunamis do not have a season, and there's no way to predict when they might occur," Kong said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808)245-3074.