USGS
Hawaiian Volcano 
Observatory

Photo Information


Area swept by tsunami wave at Halapē, Hawaiʻi
Photograph by P.W. Lipman on December 3, 1975

View of the submerged coconut grove at Halapē, 30 km southwest of the magnitude 7.7 earthquake epicenter. This part of the coast subsided by as much as 3.5 m, leaving the grove submerged in 1.2 m of water. The tsunami swept over the area in foreground, reaching 13.1 m above the shoreline.

Thirty-two campers at Halapē were the first to experience the tsunami. The campers were able to stand during the intitial violent shaking caused by the earthquake but were soon thrown to the ground if they did not cling to trees or large rocks for support. A deafening roar rose from the steep cliffs above Halapē as numerous rockfalls rumbled downhill. Many campers, frightened by the noise, moved still closer to the beach, away from the falling rocks.

When some campers, for fear of a tsunami, ran toward the beach to check, their flashlights shone on a slowly but noticeably rising sea. Within a minute or so, sea level began to rise faster, causing the campers to run back toward the rockfalls at the base of the cliffs.

The rising water, now a breaking, surging wave, knocked many of the campers off their feet, briefly submerging some as they fled for higher ground. They had barely time to catch their breath before a second wave struck, far more turbulent and higher than the first, carrying every loose object in its path as far as 100 m inland. Trees, debris from the Halapē camping shelters, rocks, horses, and people were swept into a large, pre-existing crack in the ground, 5 to 7 m deep and 10 m or more wide (lower right in photo), and churned by the surging waves. One camper said he felt like he was "inside a washing machine."

The major part of the tsunami was over about 10 minutes after it had begun. The highest wave reached 14.6 m above the postsubmergence shoreline. Several smaller waves repeatedly washed over the exhausted victims stranded in the crack. One person was drowned or battered to death during the terrifying ordeal; another was swept out to sea and never found. Nineteen people were injured at Halapē; seven required hospitalization.


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Updated : 17 December 1998 (pnf)