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Tsunami!: Second Edition

Walter C. Dudley
Min Lee
Copyright Date: 1998
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    On April 1, 1946, shortly after sunrise, the town of Hilo on the island of Hawai'i was devastated by a series of giant waves. Traveling 2,300 miles from the Aleutian Islands in less than five hours, the waves struck without warning and claimed 159 lives. Fourteen years later, on May 22, 1960, a massive earthquake occurred off of the coast of Chile. The earthquake generated giant waves that sped across the Pacific at 442 miles per hour, reaching Hilo in just fifteen hours. The first wave to hit the town was a modest four feet higher than normal, the second nine feet. Before the third wave could arrive, a tidal phenomenon known as a bore smashed into the Hilo bayfront, with thirty-five foot waves that wrenched buildings off their foundations. That day several city blocks were swept clean of all structures and 61 people died. The first edition of Tsunami!, published in 1988, provided readers with a complete examination of the tsunami phenomenon in Hawai'i. This second edition adds many eyewitness accounts of the tsunamis of 1946 and 1960 and expands its coverage to include major tsunamis in the Mediterranean and off the coasts of Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Fiji, Alaska, California, Newfoundland, and the Caribbean, as well as the 1998 devastation in Papua New Guinea. Dramatic photographs and accounts of experiencing a tsunami firsthand are placed within the framework of the how and why of tsunamis, our scientific understanding of these phenomena, and the current status of the Tsunami Warning System, which is widely used to forecast and measure tsunamis and prepare coastal areas for potentially deadly tsunami strikes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6530-6
    Subjects: Aquatic Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Robert M. Fujimoto

    The ocean is always with us in the Hawaiian Islands. It surrounds us, brings us rain, gives us food, and provides a never-ending source of pleasure and beauty. But its power must be recognized. Those of us who live in Hawai‘i know the importance of the ocean to our way of life. We must also acknowledge its might.

    Tsunamis are a manifestation of the ocean’s power that should never be forgotten. In 1946 and 1960, people in the islands, and those in Hilo in particular, were reminded of the giant force latent in the sea. Many will remember with me...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Want to Help?
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. 1 With No Warning: The 1946 Tsunami from the Aleutians
    (pp. 1-50)

    In the early morning hours of April 1, 1946, Officer-in-Charge Anthony Petit and his four-man crew were on duty at the lighthouse in Scotch Cap, Alaska. Located on cold, barren Unimak Island, it is one of the most isolated lighthouses in the United States. The original building, a 45-foot octagonal wooden structure, had been built in 1903 to keep Unimak Pass lighted for mariners using the Bering Sea. In 1940 a new square, white, reinforced concrete lighthouse was built only 50 yards away, rising above the old wooden building to a height of nearly 100 feet. The light’s 80,000-candlepower lamp...

  7. 2 What Is a Tsunami?
    (pp. 51-99)

    As Hilo dug itself out of the rubble, the authorities began the task of determining exactly what had occurred. The media around the world headlined the destruction in Hawai‘i. In South America they told of the “marimoto,” in France of the “raz de marée,” and in Germany of the “flutwellen.” Newspaper accounts in English told of the “tidal wave”—but we now know that the terrible waves that came from the Aleutians and wreaked havoc in Hawai‘i had nothing to do with the tides. Such enormous, destructive waves have been called “seismic sea waves” by scientists, but they are now...

  8. 3 The Development of the Warning System
    (pp. 100-113)

    Following the tragic loss of life in Hawai‘i as a result of the 1946 Aleutian tsunami, the population wanted to know if anything could be done to warn of the approach of these catastrophic waves. However, the newspaper headlines read “Warning Impossible[,] Geodetic Chief Asserts” and the U.S. Commerce Department denied that its Coast and Geodetic Survey was remiss in not warning the population. Yet, oddly enough, warnings of tsunamis had been issued in Hawai‘i during the 1920s and 1930s by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), and the Japanese had their own tsunami warning system in operation by 1941. Why...

  9. 4 The Warning System in Action: The 1952 and 1957 Tsunamis
    (pp. 114-129)

    Just before five in the morning on November 5, 1952 (1652 Greenwich Mean Time,¹ November 4), a strong submarine earthquake rocked the ocean floor in the far northwestern corner of the Pacific Ocean. Fifteen minutes later, at 1707 gmt, the earthquake alarm at the Honolulu Volcano Observatory in ‘Ewa Beach was set off as the shock was registered on seismographs. The warning system immediately went into action. The seismic observatories in California, Arizona, and Alaska all reported in with additional information on the earthquake. In less than an hour, the warning system had determined the earthquake’s epicenter to be at...

  10. 5 Disaster by Night: The 1960 Tsunami from Chile
    (pp. 130-181)

    Sunday, May 22, 1960, was a day of terror for the South American country of Chile. It had been foreshadowed a day earlier near the city of Concepción, located between the high, rugged Andes Mountains and the great ocean depths of the Peru-Chile Trench. Just after 6 a.m. on May 21, Concepción was struck by a major earthquake. Damage to the city and to nearby towns was extensive and the earthquake registered an impressive 7.5 on the Richter scale. The Honolulu Observatory issued a tsunami watch at 6:45 a.m. (local time in Chile), and beginning at about 9 a.m. small...

  11. 6 The 1964 Good Friday Earthquake and Tsunami
    (pp. 182-221)

    Two giant tectonic plates collide along a boundary made up of the Aleutian Islands and the Pacific coast of Alaska. Here the oceanic Pacific plate thrusts under the continental North American plate, forming what is known as a “subduction zone.” The Aleutian-Alaska Trench is the surface expression of this subduction zone, and ideal conditions exist here for the generation of tsunamis—that is, large earthquakes associated with vertical motions of the sea floor.

    The tsunamis produced along the Aleutian Trench, such as those of 1946 and 1957, are a threat mainly to the Hawaiian Islands. Tsunamis generated in the Gulf...

  12. 7 Local Tsunamis in Hawai‘i
    (pp. 222-244)

    Most destructive tsunamis are associated with earthquakes and are caused by tectonic displacement of the sea floor. Fortunately, most of the Hawaiian Islands, with the exception of the island of Hawai‘i itself, are not very seismically active. The island of Hawai‘i does have a large number of earthquakes, but most of these are small and cause little or no damage. About once a century, however, a very large earthquake does occur on the island. Such a quake occurred in 1868.

    On Thursday, April 2, 1868, a major earthquake struck the island of Hawai‘i. The quake was felt as far away...

  13. 8 Recent Tsunamis around the World
    (pp. 245-288)

    Even though the Hawaiian Islands have not been assaulted by a major Pacific-wide tsunami for more than 30 years, tsunamis continue to be a real and present danger in the Pacific region. Hardly a year goes by without at least one destructive tsunami striking somewhere in the Pacific. Unfortunately, the press pays little attention to these disasters, occurring as they often do in remote countries. This lack of press coverage has led many people to falsely believe that little threat exists from tsunamis. The following accounts of some of the locally destructive tsunamis of the last two decades show that...

  14. 9 How Much More Do We Know?
    (pp. 289-338)

    We have learned a great deal from the tsunamis of recent years. Even tsunamis of more than a century ago can still teach us about the phenomenon, when reviewed in the light of our current knowledge. Disasters that seemed particularly surprising and unexpected when they happened are now better understood, and this knowledge could help us prepare against future events.

    In Japan, June 15 is celebrated as Boys’ Festival. The festival in the year 1896 was a particularly happy one as many soldiers, just returned from the Sino-Japanese War, were being honored for their bravery. It was also the date...

  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 339-350)
  16. Suggested Readings
    (pp. 351-352)
  17. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 353-356)
  18. Index
    (pp. 357-362)