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Hilo, Hawaii, appears poised for brunt of tsunami

Posted by Jason Tuohey  February 27, 2010 12:38 PM

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The tsunami racing towards Hawaii right now, set off by the 8.8-magnitude earthquake near Chile's capital, appears poised to strike the city of Hilo first and hardest.

Current predictions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show waves of a little more than 8 feet headed for Hilo. The first wave is expected to strike at about 4:05 p.m. EST. The NOAA does stress on its website that these are only estimates.

This wouldn't mark the first time massive waves have battered Hilo. On May 23, 1960, a tsunami triggered by an earthquake measuring more than 8.0 off the coast of Chile (sound familiar?) deluged Hilo with waves as high as 35 feet, destroying much of the city's downtown and killing 61 people.

The tsunami that struck Hilo on April 1, 1946 may have been even worse. A quake near the Aleutian Islands sent 30-foot waves that ravaged the city. Approximately 159 people were killed in Hawaii, many of them in Hilo.

The good news? The waves in 1946 and 1960 were considerably higher than what's expected today. Additionally, the loss of life was in part attributed to a lack of a warning system in 1946, and a failure of residents to heed the warnings in 1960. In contrast, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports Hilo closed its airport as of 11 a.m. EST, and the state Department of Transportation mobilized vessels and crew this morning to clear the harbor areas. So, hopefully Hilo is prepared to avoid as much damage as possible.

You can track the path of the tsunami on the NOAA website here.

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