Wave of history


POSTED: Sunday, March 29, 2009

Seven-year-old Earl Kaina was waiting for the school bus and playing marbles by the mailbox of his family's Lanikai home when he saw “;all this water come gushing in.”;




First of two parts


» Measuring how well the emergency alert system works.
        » The March 9 glitch.


It was the historic 1946 tsunami — the deadliest in Hawaii's history — that would claim 159 victims, including six on Oahu.

Kaina, now 70, said he ran into the kitchen where his mother, Kupuna Kainoa Wright, and aunt, Rose Nolen of Maui, were having coffee with a friend and getting ready for work about 7 a.m. Then 4, his sister, Wailani Camp of Kailua, was outside with him.

“;I yelled out, 'water, water, water.' But it was April 1, so they didn't take me seriously,”; he said. “;I dragged my mother out the front door.”;

Their home at 835 Mokulua Drive, where his 95-year-old mother still lives with a family member, is within the first block across from the beach, Kaina said. “;The water came up the beach right-of-way, right into my marble area.”;

Kaina, who now lives in Las Vegas, is back in Hawaii to attend a program kicking off Tsunami Awareness Month and recognizing his mother Wednesday at Holy Trinity School.

In 1946, the earliest warnings began with Thomas Jaggar, founder of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, who attempted to warn the Hilo harbormaster of a possible tsunami generated by the 1923 Kamchatka earthquake. But his warning wasn't heeded and at least one fisherman was killed, according to reports.

The devastating Pacific-wide 1946 tsunami led to an official warning system with establishment of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center at Ewa Beach in 1949.

The emergency alert system has been greatly expanded over the years with ongoing improvements and technology to save lives and property, especially with local earthquakes.

The goal is to get information out two minutes after an earthquake anywhere in the Islands, said geophysicist Gerard Fryer at the warning center.

“;We can't do two but I'm pretty sure we can do three,”; he said. “;If somebody feels severe shaking and hasn't started moving, we still want to have a chance to get sirens blowing before the tsunami arrives, and every additional minute we can give people is valuable.”;

The Big Island had the worst toll in the 1946 tsunami with 122 dead, but the other islands also had fatalities and significant damage on all coasts, including the leeward side. Oahu had six deaths, Maui 14 and Kauai 17.

Nolen said there was no warning about the 1946 tsunami, generated by a magnitude-7 earthquake in the Aleutian Islands.

Now 83 and living in Kahului, Nolen recalled when the kids screamed that water was coming into the yard, the women ran out and “;followed the water going out (receding).

“;It went way outside and started building up higher, higher and higher. The next thing we knew, that thing was coming down again. We could see rubbish in the waves.

“;We went back to the house and the second wave came right up to the steps where the house was. It was a little bigger than the first one,”; Nolen said.

“;My sister knew it was a tidal wave. We got excited,”; she said, explaining they went in different directions down the street and beach alerting people.

Their family didn't go to higher ground — something low-lying area residents are warned to do now during tsunami alerts — but stood on the concrete steps of their house watching the waves, she said.

“;All the neighbors were outside watching. There was so much excitement.”;

The first wave swept away a boat from a neighboring home and the second wave brought it back, she said.

Kaina said he was thrilled because the water left a swordfish about six feet long in a neighbor's yard.

Nolen estimated the approaching wave at Lanikai at about 10 feet, but records indicate it was six or seven feet high in that area. She said the third wave was “;kind of minor.”;

The water was dirty because when it was receding it was taking all the rubbish out to the reef, Kaina said.

A lot of homes were flooded and doors and windows were broken, Kaina said. Their home wasn't damaged, although the water washed over the first of four steps to the house, he said.

Many families were standing on the road with their belongings, Kaina recalled. “;They probably didn't know what to do, whether to stay or evacuate.”;