Though we like to think Hawaii is absolute paradise, the state has endured some terrible disasters throughout its history. Through these tsunamis, volanco eruptions, and even attacks, the state has embraced the term “aloha” more than ever, spreading love and bringing communities together in the worst of circumstances.
1) 1946 Aleutian Islands Tsunami Earthquake
On April 1, 1946, there was an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska. Five hours later, the largest and most destructive tsunami waves recorded hit Hawaii. Because no advance warning was given, 159 people died during the disaster, mainly as a result of curious individuals who ventured into the exposed reef area, unaware of what was about to hit them. In some areas, the waves penetrated nearly half a mile inland, and caused $26 million in property damage.
2) Attack on Pearl Harbor
Perhaps one of the most tragic military attacks in American history, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor killed approximately 2,400 Americans and wounded another 1,770. Additionally, the Japanese attack damaged all eight U.S. battleships – four were sunk – three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer.
3) Kilauea Volcanic Eruption
The most recent major eruption of Kilauea Volcano, located on the Big Island, began in 1983, and is still causing destruction today. The basalt lava flows can flow as fast as ten to thirty miles per hour, and have destroyed more than 210 structures, covered 48 square miles of land, buried nine miles of highway under lava, and added 499 acres of land to the island. Previously, the Mauna Ulu eruption, from 1969 to 1974, created new land on the island, and covered much of the existing land with lava.
4+5) Hurricanes Iwa and Iniki
On November 23, 1982, category 1 Hurricane Iwa hit three Hawaiian Islands: Niihau, Kauai and Oahu, the first major hurricane to hit Hawaii since it became a state in 1959. Ten years later, on September 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki (pictured) hit Kauai, leaving six dead, and causing $1.8 billion in damages – the most powerful hurricane to strike Hawaii in recorded history.
6) West Loch Disaster
Classified as top secret until 1960, this maritime accident, which occurred on May 21, 1944, began with an explosion in a staging area for landing ships, tanks, and other amphibious assault ships in Pearl Harbor’s West Loch. A fire spread throughout the ships that were preparing for Operation Forager, the invasion of the Japanese-occupied Mariana Islands. 163 Navy personnel were killed, and another 396 were injured.
7) Great Chilean Earthquake
The 1960 Valdivia earthquake, which occurred on May 22, 1960, was rated as a 9.5 on the magnitude scale, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. The tsunami that resulted affected Southern Chile, Japan, the Philippines, eastern New Zealand, Southern Australia, the Aleutian Islands – and Hawaii. Worldwide fatalities are estimated between 2,200 and 5,700 hundred, with only 61 casualties in Hilo, Hawaii, and approximately $500,000 in U.S. property damage.
Though Hawaii has its own unique share of natural and man-made disasters, we are lucky to live in a state that comes together in times of need. Please feel free to share your experiences with any of these disasters in the comments – and let us know if we forgot anything.