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Ceremonies mark Tsunami Awareness Month

March 31, 2014 - 11:46am

Hawaii’s Tsunami Awareness Month starts Tuesday with two days of memorial ceremonies honoring lives lost during past tsunamis.

Opening ceremonies at the Shinmachi Memorial will start at 11 a.m. on Tuesday and on Wednesday, when the Laupahoehoe School will participate in the commemoration of the 1946 tsunami.

Darryl Oliveira, director of civil defense for Hawaii County, said the special event is significant to the entire school and the community.

“It was extremely severe because of the unique nature of that community and the scale of the disaster that hit,” he said.

A Tsunami Awareness and Emergency Response Fair will run from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on April 19, where attendees will learn about the current emergency response systems that Oliveira says stem from lessons learned.

“The 1946 tsunami was the catalyst to develop the current warning system we have. The development of the technology was born out of the 1946 tsunami,” he said.

Along with educating the public about important safety measures, there will be a 12th annual Tsunami Story Festival on April 6 during which two local tsunami survivors will share their story. The event will feature Terence Yoshioka and Gloria Kobayashi, who will be presenting her book, “The Yashijima Story: The History of Waiakea Town.”

Co-authored by Richard I. Nakamura, the anthology exhibits a wide-range of pictures and tales as an attempt to preserve the history and memories of the Waiakea town prior to the 1946 tsunami.

In its acknowledgements, Kobayashi and Nakamura state: “These photos dramatically show that there is very little left of the community.”

The second half of the book titled “Waiakea Town,” written and edited by Kobayashi, provides a look at the Waiakea community that was geographically separated from Hilo by the Wailoa River, around Lihiwai Street and rounding Banyan Drive, where the Harrington’s restaurant and Hilo Seaside hotel are currently located.

Kobayashi explains the community, located on the banks of the Wailoa River, had an economy based on fishing, stevedoring, sugar, railroading and service industries. At its peak, some 5,000 people lived in very close quarters covering 10 square miles. During the 1920s and 30s, Waiakea Town was also called “Yashijima,” the Japanese words for Coconut Island, and was home to Big Island businesses that are still in existence today.

While providing a a background on the community, including old photographs of sugar cane workers, KTA’s first store and pictures of Kobayashi’s father’s restaurant, Cafe 100, the book also shares a unique and compelling history of the destruction of past tsunamis.

“The tsunami of April 1, 1946 wiped out the entire Shinmachi (Japanese for ‘new town’) area across the Wailoa River and took about 159 lives around the state…,” the book explains.

“At the time of the destruction of Waiakea Town by the May 22, 1960 tsunami, at least 40 businesses operated along both sides of Kamehameha Avenue. Sixty-one people, many residents of the Waiakea Town area, lost their lives and all of the businesses were completely destroyed along with the hundreds of residences in the area.”

Kobayashi, who donated the book to the tsunami museum for free, said she participates in the Tsunami Awareness Month to help keep the focus on the fact that disasters, such as the one that wiped out her father’s restaurant, can and more than likely will occur again.

There will also be a presentation at the festival of exclusive aerial photos taken immediately after the 1946 tsunami hit.

Tickets are $40 per person, which includes a dinner, and can be purchased at the Pacific Tsunami Museum or at KTA Super Stores. They can also be purchased using your credit card by calling the museum at 808-935-0926, or mailing a check to PTM at 130 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo 96720.

Email Megan Moseley at