Pacific Tsunami Museum - Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii - A Trove of Tidal Wave Information


On April 1, 1946, and again on May 23, 1960, the city of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii was hit by devastating tidal waves that reshaped the social and economic structure of the community. In order to promote public tsunami education for the people of Hawaii and the Pacific Region, the Pacific Tsunami Museum was formed in 1994 as a non-profit organization. It combines scientific information with oral interviews of tsunami survivors to keep the history of these catastrophic events alive through exhibits and public programs.

"Tsunami,'' of course, is the Japanese word for "tidal wave.'' In the Hawaiian language, two words are actually used to describe this occurrence: "kai e'e'' means the wave itself, while "kai mimiki'' refers to the withdrawal of water before the kai e'e arrives. Such withdrawal is actually the tsunami's trough before its crest reaches the shore.

Inside the Museum, displays have been arranged on a single level. The various exhibits detail the historical tsunamis that Hilo and the rest of Hawaii have encountered. There are also and presentations on tsunamis around the world and efforts currently being undertaken to detect, track, and warn the public about possible tsunamis.

A mix of photographs, text and video is used to provide visitors with information. A few of the videos are rather long, but most will be interesting to anyone who has an interest in earthquakes and tsunamis. Those videos showing the tsunami destruction in Hilo are especially poignant, as it is possible to look out the Museum windows and picture the damage and destruction so close at hand.

Education is also a major emphasis of the Museum and several programs for community outreach have been arranged. For example, the Museum's curator/archivist Barbara Muffler often talks to local high school and middle school students regarding the science of tsunamis as a way of interesting them in science careers. Similarly, Pacific Tsunami Museum Board President Jim Wilson has spoken before civic groups, such as the Rotary Club, to give a history of the museum and state its goals.

The Museum also operates in affiliation with a number of related organizations, including the University of Hawaii, the International Tsunami Information Center, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, and Hawaii's State and County Civil Defense Agencies. As a recent project, the Museum published a booklet for community distribution entitled "How to Prepare Your Business for the Next Tsunami - A Guide for Businesses in the Hawaiian Islands.''

The Pacific Tsunami Museum is located right across the street from Hilo Bay in downtown Hilo. A live webcam mounted near its entrance keeps an electronic eye on the bay to watch for tsunamis. Evacuation plans have also been posted conspicuously at the entrance at testament to the Museum's commitment to preparedness.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum is open each day from 9am to 4pm. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $2 for students. Children under age 5 are admitted free of charge. The address is 130 Kamehameha Avenue, Hilo, Hawaii 96721. A small store is located on the premises selling tsunami-related books, posters, puzzles, videos, apparel, glasses, mugs and jewelry.

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