Preparedness & Recovery

Tsunami Threat Never Ends

'Unlike hurricanes, a tsunami has no season. It can strike at any time, both day and night, without warning, or little warning.'

by Dan Nakaso, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / April 12, 2018

(TNS) - Officials from the city, state, Kamehameha Schools and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration unveiled a dramatic, 10-foot high banner at the steps of Honolulu Hale Wednesday to hammer home the threat that tsunamis can wreak across the islands at any moment.

The banner includes a map of Oahu that pinpoints just six of the more than 100 tsunamis that have hit Oahu since tsunamis have been recorded. Its 10-foot height is just a third of the 30-foot wave that pounded Kaena Point in 1952, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

But the tsunami threat to Oahu and all of the neighbor islands never ends, Caldwell said, as tsunami information brochures are going out in 13 non-English languages, including Hawaiian, for the first time.

Paul F. Nahoa Lucas, senior counsel of Kamehameha Schools’ education legal division, reiterated Caldwell’s warning to never to turn your back to the ocean and then recited a Hawaiian proverb that he interpreted as:

“The person who fails to watch out, often loses,” Lucas said. “Never turn your back on the sea. Unlike hurricanes, a tsunami has no season. It can strike at any time, both day and night, without warning, or little warning.”

Kamehameha Schools translated tsunami information into Hawaiian, Lucas said, “in order to empower the Hawaiian speaking communities that we serve to better prepare and respond in the event of a tsunami.”

No island is immune and each one has been struck by tsunamis dozens of times, said Laura Kong, director of NOAA’s International Tsunami Information Center.

The tsunami triggered by the 2011 Japanese earthquake that hit Hawaii caused more than $30 million in damage across the state, she said.

In addition to Hawaiian, the updated tsunami preparedness brochures are being translated into 12 other languages and dialects: Spanish, Tagalog, Ilokano, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Chuukese, Marshallese, Samoan, Tongan and Vietnamese. The languages are aimed at residents who represent 5 percent or more of Hawaii’s non-English speaking populations.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spent $15,000 to $20,000 for this month’s tsunami preparedness and awareness month that included nearly 13,000 brochures and 10-foot tall banners for each of the neighbor island counties, with individual island maps that identify significant tsunamis for each island, said Kevin Richards, HI-EMA’s natural hazards officer.

The brochures are being offered to schools across the state and are also available at tsunamihawaii.org, with the non-English translations expected to be unveiled as they become available.

The new brochures offer plenty of tips about what to do if an earthquake hits far away — or as close as Hawaii island — that could trigger a tsunami.

But Caldwell repeated the fundamental warning he learned as a boy fishing along the shores of Hawaii island:

“Don’t wait,” he said. “Just head mauka.”

Caldwell does not want anyone to repeat the disastrous mistake on April Fool’s Day 1946 when people ran down to the receding shoreline of his hometown of Hilo to gather fish that were flopping around, only to be struck by an incoming wave.

“The April 1st tsunami killed 159 people because they didn’t know,” Caldwell said. “They weren’t aware. We’re aware today.”

But Caldwell then added moments later, “My fear is people grow complacent with these warnings.”

For more information, visit: tsunamihawaii.org

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