It was only a couple of weeks ago that a massive earthquake struck just off the coast of Chile. The early morning quake lasted an astounding 4 minutes and weighed in at an astonishing 8.8 on the Richter Scale. Within a very short time, tsunami warnings were being posted all over the Pacific Ocean. Around noon the focus (at least for the U.S.) narrowed to the Hawaiian Islands, where the waves, which travel at high subsonic speeds, were scheduled to strike. Estimates suggested waves of 8′, which would probably have done some significant damage.
My folks had come to visit for the weekend, and we turned on the TV to see what happened. When nothing much came of it, the news reporters started fumbling around a bit, and for us it turned into a bit of comical farce. Of course, some places along the Chilean coast were heavily damaged by tsunamis, but most of the Pacific (including Hawaii) was spared.
But that was not the case on March 9, 1957. On that date, a huge earthquake struck the Andreanof Islands (on the southwest part of the Aleutian Islands) near Alaska. Tsunami waves in the immediate area approached 70 feet, but as expected, those waves spread out through the Pacific Ocean and struck Hawaii. And they were not the small “2010-style” waves.
Maximum wave heights were nearly 50′ on Kauai, more than 20′ on Oahu (from where the picture above was taken), 15′ on Molokai, and more than 10′ on Hawaii itself. Damage was immense as hundreds of homes were destroyed, bridges and highways were washed out, and floodwaters washed through businesses and homes.
But miraculously, not a single Hawaiian (or visitor to the islands) was killed, though the damage was extensive, topping $5 million.
We’re familiar with flooding from dam breaks (and we talked about a couple of those, here and here, and the schedule calls for another in a couple days). And even I know the terrible power of river- and stream-flooding first-hand (and it’s threatening us again as I write this). But tsunamis are in a class all their own. The volumes of water, the speed with which they strike, the total destruction and widespread death and calamity they can bring are on a scale most of us can’t grasp.
Well, in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which many of us have seen on video, maybe we can to a degree…and it’s very sobering.