In historical times, two tsunamis occurred during the first week of April. The first of these occurred on April 2, 1868; it resulted from the great earthquake that took place that day near Pahala.
Based on the extent and type of damage, the 1868 earthquake is estimated to have had a magnitude of about 8.0. Reports indicate that 46 people were killed and several entire Hawaiian villages were destroyed by the tsunami generated from the earthquake. (USGS)
Destruction caused by the 1868 great Ka‘ū earthquake included the Wai‘ōhinu in the Ka‘ū District of Hawai‘i Island. With a magnitude estimated at 7.9, the earthquake is the largest in Hawai‘i’s recorded history. (USGS)
“There were twelve shocks counted during the night. -most of them easy, one however rocked the bed considerably At four oclock that afternoon there was such an awful rocking and heaving of the earth as we never felt before.”
“Indeed there was a series of shocks following each other in quick succession the third of which drove us from the house.”
“After a cessation of only one or two minutes the fourth came. in which violent undulations, rotary, and all most all other motions were combined or followed each other in quick succession. “
“At one moment the surface of the earth seemed to move like the surface of the ocean and the large trees to sway hither and thither like ships masts in a storm. The few stone buildings in the place were ruined.”
“The chimneys of cook and dwelling houses were thrown down. Clocks, mirrors and crockery, not firmly secured, were generally thrown down and broken. Cellar walls and underpinning were much damaged.”
“Stone walls were generally prostrated, even the foundation stones being generally removed from their original position. and it was not easy to tell in which direction from the wall the larger portion of the stones had fallen.”
“The best chimney stacks of the Hilo Sugar Mills were thrown down while some of the old cracked chimneys supposed all most ready to fall were little affected. The shocks were considerably more severe here than they were at the crater of Kilauea thirty miles from here, but less severe than they were in Kau from Kapapala to Kahuku.”
“Then slight jars were felt almost constantly for a few minutes after which the earth commenced rocking again fearfully. This continued but a short time and was followed by a tidal wave.” (Sarah Lyman; USGS)
A letter “by the School Inspector-General [Abraham Fornander] gives a detailed account of the volcanic phenomenon on Hawaii” in the April 29, 1868 issue of the Hawaiian Gazette.
Fornander notes, “I have just been told an incident that occurred in Ninole, during the inundation of that place. At the time of the shock on Thursday, a man named Holoua, and his wife, ran out of the house and started for the hills above, but remembering the money he had in the house, the man left his wife and returned to bring it away.”
“Just as he had entered the bouse the sea broke on the shore, and, enveloping the building, first washed it several yards inland, and then, as the wave receded, swept It off to sea, with him in it.”
“Being a powerful man, and one of the most expert swimmers in that region, he succeeded in wrenching off a board or a rafter, and with this as a papa hee-nalu, (surf board), be boldly struck out for the shore, and landed safely with the return wave.”
“When we consider the prodigious height of the breaker on which he rode to the shore, (50, perhaps 60, feet), the feat seems almost Incredible, were it not that be is now alive to attest it, as well as the people on the hillside who saw him.” (Fornander in Hawaiian Gazette, April 29, 1868)
Artist William CP Cathcart of Honolulu made a painting of the event and calls what Holoua did, ”the greatest aquatic feat of its kind in the history of the world”.
“Not many would quarrel with him that [Holoua], is the granddaddy of all surfriders. [Holoua] happens to be riding the crest of a 50 to 60 foot tidal wave, using a house rafter for a surfboard.”
“Says Artist Cathcart: ‘[Holoua] prevailed, the undefeated super-champion of surfers …’ Mr Cathcart suggests the [Holoua’s] deed should be commemorated with a large bronze statue, suitably placed. The deed itself, he says, merits ‘a tribute that would immortalize the prestige of Hawaii through centuries.’”
“Just to show what the water was like that day, the old Commercial Advertiser reported that four villages and 100 persons perished in the waves.” (Honolulu Advertiser, March 10, 1957)
An obituary for Holoua’s grandson, Joseph Kanuu Holoua, notes that the story “has been passed from generation to generation of Holouas. Aa Holoua used a house rafter for a surfboard and safely [rode] a 50 to 60-foot tidal wave to shore.” (Honolulu Advertiser, March 12, 1961)
The April 2 great Ka‘ū earthquake was part of a larger volcanic crisis that unfolded over 16 days. On March 27, an eruption quietly began in Moku‘āweoweo, the caldera at the summit of Mauna Loa.
Seismic activity increased through the day, and by the afternoon of March 28, a magnitude-7.0 earthquake occurred in Ka‘ū, which caused extensive damage from its own very strong to violent shaking.
During the following four days, nearly continuous ground shaking was reported in Ka‘ū and South Kona. Earthquakes continued at rates of 50 to 300 per day, including a magnitude-6.0 each day, leading up to April 2.
Then, the great Ka‘ū earthquake, 15 times stronger than the magnitude-7.0 foreshock, occurred at 4 pm. A severe aftershock occurred on April 4, and aftershocks of decreasing magnitudes continued for decades.
The great Ka‘ū earthquake unlocked Mauna Loa’s Southwest Rift Zone, and on April 7, 1868, an eruptive fissure opened low on the mountain, just above today’s Highway 11 and east of Hawaiian Ocean View Estates. (USGS) (The other April tsunami was April 1, 1946.)