Hilo looked like a battlefield on May 29, 1960, six days after a tsunami struck with devastating force. Many private houses and commercial buildings crumbled as if they were made of matchsticks.

Museum marks 44 years
since deadly wave hit Hilo

HILO >> The clock on the tall green pedestal on Kamehameha Avenue still freezes the moment.

That is, 1:04 a.m., the time a deadly tsunami struck here on May 23, 1960, leaving the timepiece as one of few surviving landmarks. The 35-foot wall of water destroyed much of Hilo and killed 61 people.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum will commemorate the 44th anniversary tonight with the Tsunami Story Festival, "When Time Stood Still" at the Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin Sangha Hall.

Five survivors of the 1960 tsunami will be honored at the 6 p.m. event, including Fusayo Ito, 95, who was knocked unconscious when the tsunami wave hit her Waiakea home.

When she came to, she was enveloped by both darkness and water, adrift far from shore, floating on a screen door ripped from its hinges. After hours passed, she resigned herself to a water death. But she was eventually rescued by the Coast Guard.

Others to be honored are Robert Fujimoto, Al Inoue, June Shigemasa and Takayoshi Kanda.

"Their stories are amazing and people love to hear survivor stories," said museum curator Jill Sommer.

Fujimoto said good has come from the tragedy.

"When you look at what has happened after the wave, the growth and prosperity that Hilo experienced, I think, was a blessing in disguise," he said. "We have a beautiful waterfront now."

The 1960 tsunami was generated by an 8.6-magnitude earthquake in Chile that traveled about 6,200 miles before reaching Hawaii. It caused little damage outside Hilo.

Destructive as it was, the 1960 wave will not go down as Hawaii's deadliest.

The islands' deadliest recorded tsunami came in 1946 when an April Fool's Day wave generated by an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands sent a 25-foot-high wall of water ashore, killing 173 people, also mostly in Hilo.

National Geophysical Data Center tsunami database:
Pacific Tsunami Museum:
International Tsunami Information Center:


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