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The Correa Family's Experience in the 1960 Tsunami

On May 22, 1960, an earthquake with 9.5 magnitude, the largest on record, shook Conception, Chile. A
Pacific-wide tsunami was generated. There was extensive damage to areas in Chile, Hawaii, and Japan
as the waves raced across the Pacific and wreaked havoc. The tsunami slammed into Hilo on May 23.
The largest wave, the third one, struck at 1:04 am. With the 1960 tsunami anniversary imminent, this
feature story portrays a Waiakea family's experience in both the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis.

Grace Correa CarterJimmy Correa

Grace Correa Carter and Jimmy Correa

Grace Correa Carter and Jimmy Correa came from a large family of 8 boys and 9 girls. The Correa family lived a couple of blocks from Waiakea Kai School on what is now part of the golf course. Like nearly all Waiakea kids, the Correas frequented Coconut Island, swimming out and back. Jimmy and Grace also remember spending lots of good times at Waiakea Settlement playing sports, doing crafts, and dancing.

On April 1, 1946, Grace had a family of her own and lived in the house she grew up in. Her sister called her and said that a tsunami was coming and to evacuate. When they left, Grace noticed something about the waves sweeping inland. "I watched the waves and I was amazed," she said. "The waves picked that building, [then] went around, [then] picked another building. Some of the homes didn't get hit." Fortunately, the Correa home was spared. Meanwhile, Jimmy did not report to work that morning, as workers were warned away from the Iron Works. Jimmy lived inland at Waiakea House Lots. So the Correa family home escaped the 1946 disaster.

The 1960 tsunami was a different story. One of Grace's sons had been at Coconut Island with friends. The son came home and told his mom that the caretaker instructed everyone to get off the island because there was a tsunami coming. Grace spent the afternoon rounding up her boys and husband. They headed inland.

Jimmy was working in his truck for the county sewer department not far from the bay when the waves hit. To him it sounded like a hundred jet planes taking off. "When I turned around and looked at the power plant down in Waiakea Town... it was just like lightning sparks were flying. I got in the truck and I took off."

A few days later, Grace returned to the place where the Correa family home stood for so many years. "The waves took everything" she said. "I cried for a week." Soon after, the whole neighborhood was bulldozed, and the only way Grace and Jimmy could tell where their house had been was the lemon tree and the big old mango tree.

Amazingly, the mango tree actually saved the Kama family across the street. The fruit on that tree had always been sour, so it had been trimmed back, leaving only the trunk and two thick branches forming a "V". When the tsunami came, the Kama family jumped in their car at the last second. The waves swept them right up into that old mango tree, and they just sat there, helpless, watching houses float by and hearing the terrible crunching and crashing as buildings splintered.

The 1960 tsunami event was the last big one to strike the Waiakea area. The next one might not come for 100 years - or it might come tomorrow.

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How to Prepare Your Business for the Next Tsunami

(click here to download)

A Guide for Businesses in the Hawaiian Islands


If there is any place in Hawai'i that is prepared for the next tsunami, you would think it would be Hilo.  Yet, when we asked the question to businesses in downtown Hilo, only a third said Hilo was prepared.  With this information in hand, the Pacific Tsunami Museum embarked on a project with the County of Hawai'i Planning Dept. to assess and assist businesses with their tsunami preparation and planning.  The result was one-on-one consultation, small group sessions, a Tsunami-Safe Fair, and the publication of a document entitled “How to Prepare Your Business for the Next Tsunami”. 

There was tremendous community collaboration and support for the project.  The County Planning, Research and Development and Fire Departments, as well as Hawai'i County Civil Defense were all major contributors.  Support came from the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association, Kanoelehua Industrial Area Association, and the Hilo Bay Watershed Advisory Group.  All of this effort brought to fruition a major action of the Envision Downtown Hilo 2025 to develop and conduct a tsunami education, preparation and recovery program for both Pacific-wide and locally generated tsunamis.






To watch tsunami survivor video clips see our Survivor Video page.

New!   Are you in a Tsunami Evacuation Zone?

Wonder where the tsunami evacuation zone is near you?

NOAA in partnership with the State of Hawaii has developed the Are you in a Tsunami Evacuation Zone? to provide residents and visitors of the State of Hawai'i easy, online access to the State's tsunami evacuation zone maps. Check it out!

tsunami evacuation zone; hilo

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All materials © Copyright 1996-2014 Pacific Tsunami Museum Inc.
130 Kamehameha Ave Hilo, HI 96720 tel: 808-935-0926 FAX: 808-935-0842 email:
Last Revised May 2014
Visitor # since September 2006