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Researcher: Hilo evacuation maps should take into account the likelihood of mikatsunami

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Current tsunami evacuation zones in Hilo are not sufficient to respond to a hypothetical megatsunami, according to a researcher from the University of Hawaii.

In 2011, the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center began work on new tsunami models for the state after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan.

These models were completed in 2015 and later incorporated into updated tsunami evacuation plans for Oahu, Kauai, and Maui – but not on the island of Hawaii.

However, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Talmadge Magno said such a modernization would be unnecessary.

“When our evacuation maps were drawn up, (former Civil Defense Director and Mayor Harry) Kim added this buffer zone around the evacuation zone,” said Magno.

Magno said the increased area added to the evacuation zone includes a model of the worst-case scenario developed by the country in 2015.

“This is not an accurate statement,” said Kwok Fai Cheung, a professor of ocean resources and geological engineering at UH-Manoa who developed the updated models.

He said Cheung’s models are mostly covered in Hawaiian County evacuation plans, but there are certain areas where the worst-case model exceeds the evacuation plan.

“Hilo is one of those places,” said Cheung, explaining that the worst model runs south of Hilo International Airport, while the current plan extends only to the northern edge of the airport. Likewise, the evacuation plan does not cover other locations in Kailua-Kona and Kaihai.

“I’ve offered to help (Hawaii) County several times, even though my contract with the state has expired,” said Cheung, though he added that the Hawaiian County Civil Defense had a different leadership when he submitted his models to them, and thus he might not be aware of the latest Forms.

Cheung said that before the Tohoku earthquake, the state’s plans for tsunami evacuation were based on the effects of the tsunami that struck the country over the past 100 years.

However, the Tohoku tsunami was stronger than any other tsunami that struck the area in the last century, and overcame Japanese defense measures against the tsunami, killing more than 14,000 people in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

In the wake of the Tohoku earthquake, Cheung said the country has realized that its models should not only take into account tsunamis in the recent past but also a worse hypothetical scenario in order to avert disaster in the future. To this end, Cheung models visualized a 9.6-magnitude earthquake originating from the Aleutian Islands.

UH-Manoa geophysicist Rhett Butler, former director of the Hawaiian Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Science, said the Aleutian earthquake is the most plausible source of the Hawaiian tsunami.

“The Aleuts are there, and they are directed at us directly,” Butler said, but added that potential earthquakes that could trigger a tsunami could also originate from all over the Kamchatka Peninsula in Siberia. However, the Kamchatka tsunami will take longer to reach Hawaii.

Butler said there is convincing, if not conclusive, evidence that a similar mega-event struck the islands about 300 to 350 years ago, based on the sediment deposits on Kauai. It is estimated that such events occur once every thousand years.

The 1946 Hilo tsunami that struck 75 years earlier on Thursday was triggered by an 8.6 magnitude Aleutian earthquake.

Magno said the Civil Defense reviews the district’s evacuation plans every year, and will hold exercises at Hilo International Airport later this year.

Email Michael Brestovansky at [email protected]

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