Tomorrow is the anniversary of the 1946 tsunami, the one trigged by an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands, which created a series of powerful waves that struck the island with a maximum run up of 45 feet, killing at least 14 people in Wainiha-Haena, including many children, and destroying numerous homes.
As the Star-Bulletin reported at the time:
All bridges at Wainiha (between Hanalei and Haena) were washed out at the same time. [T]he YMCA camp on the flat at Haena was completely destroyed. The tiny village at Wainiha is flat.
Even more telling:
Haena was isolated yesterday from rescue teams.
That very same coastline is now lined with lavish acation rentals that together sleep hundreds of unsuspecting tourists, some of them in illegal ground floor bedrooms in the flood zone. And Haena is still isolated from rescue teams whenever it floods.
I was talking to a friend the other day, a guy who helped build the original Billie Jean King hale, back in the late '70s. He and another worker were surprised to find small concrete pads, steps that went nowhere, when they began clearing the lot and adjacent properties. Puzzled, they questioned an old-timer, a member of the Tai-Hook clan, who told them, “Those steps used to lead into houses; the concrete slabs were their wash rooms. But when they got washed away in the '46 tsunami, all the people moved away from the beach, up Wainiha Valley.”
Today, as I've reported in the Abuse Chronicles, the old King hale is now the King and the Princess, a multi-family TVR with a bedroom, sitting area and full kitchen on the ground floor.
In fact, nearly every permit-challenged TVR profiled in the series — we're at number 10, with more still to come — is located on the same stretch of sand that was scoured clean in '46, and again in the tsunami of 1957. As the Honolulu Advertiser reported after the '57 event:
On North Kauai alone, damage came to the neighborhood of $2 million, more than double the amount of wreckage the 1946 tidal wave caused on the Garden Island.
Some 75 homes were demolished or damaged along the 15 mile strip between Kalihiwai and Haena. An estimated 250 persons were homeless. More than 1,000 were isolated when the Kalihiwai bridge crumbled under the power of the waves.
A survey of the little towns along battered North Kauai was testimony to the power of the waves that rolled down from their Aleutian breeding ground.
Out of 29 homes that once stood at Haena, only four can now be lived in. A YMCA boys' camp, recently repaired from 1946 tidal wave damage, was washed out to sea. Power and telephone lines were down for a mile along Haena flats.
Authorities said it was miraculous that there were no injuries or deaths on the neighbor islands, especially Kauai where it was almost by chance that residents of Hanalei and Haena got warning of the approaching disaster.
Would the same be true if a tsunami hit today? Where would all the tourists go, guided only by the flood inundation maps in telephone books, provided they were lucky enough to get a warning? How much damage would the illegally enclosed structures inflict on the homes of permanent residents? How long would it take for rescue crews to get there, or stage an evacuation? Who would care for the tourists in the meantime?
It took a string of recent visitor drownings to stir some sort of official action, in the form of a water safety video that will be screened for tourists grabbing their luggage in baggage claim.
But nothing is said of the dangers that await the tourists in county-sanctioned vacation rentals that sell an ocean “just steps from the house,” and “secluded beaches” far from lifeguards and hospitals.
Fourteen lives were sacrificed in '46, no doubt some of them only begotten sons. Yet people still haven't gotten it, all these years later.