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Visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum

The Pacific Tsunami Museum in downtown Hilo (Island of Hawai'i) was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1994, and is housed in a former bank building donated by First Hawaiian Bank.  The building was designed by C.W. Dickey, a prominent architect in Hawaii from the 1890s to the 1940s.  Dicky also designed Honolulu Hale and the Alexander and Baldwin building, along with many other Honolulu landmarks.  The columns at the front of the building are palm trees adorned with coconuts at the top.  There's a shady sitting area in front of the museum providing a cool place to take a break and watch the bay or the happenings downtown.

One of the unique features of old bank buildings is the vault.  It's been put to great use as the auditorium where videos are shown regularly.  There's another seating area outside to accommodate larger groups.  This is definitely a people place!  It's welcoming and comfortable with something that would appeal to almost anyone.  The focus is tsunami but the methods of creating interest are varied and far reaching.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum is located in historic downtown Hilo on the corner of Kamehameha Ave. and Kalakaua. They're also online at www.tsunami.org and the Hilo Bay Web Cam lets you see what's happening anytime!

Though much of the content is historical, the purpose of the museum shines through in the many types of media used to teach about tsunami.  The Ocean Science Center is a bank of PCs with FAQs, games and quizzes.  Behind it is a comfy reading room with sofa and chairs and a small library of books to browse, as well as another PC for viewing and listening to tapes of interviews with survivors.  The winning entries in the annual poster contest are proudly displayed, and the entries in the essay contest are also available.  There's also a section just for little ones with children's books and yet another PC with two videos aimed at children.

Tsunami education is the primary purpose of the museum, yet the life and times in Hilo and surrounding communities at the time of major strikes in the past are well documented as well.  This helps to place the visitor in those times, from evidence of tsunami in ancient times (the word kai e'e is used to describe the incoming waves while kai mimiki is the withdrawal of water or outgoing waves) through missionary times and into current times.  The Hilo section includes many photographs and accounts, with an especially clear picture of what Hilo was like during and after World War II setting the stage for how devastating the 1946 tsunami was to the residents of the town. 

The Laupahoehoe section includes the geological and cultural history of the town.  The 1946 tsunami claimed the lives of 16 school children and 4 of their teachers in this small community on the Hamakua Coast north of Hilo.  Also in this section are Laupahoehoe stories, including a video of Mark Twain's account of the Hornet shipwreck.  This story is not connected to a tsunami, however the crew washed up at Laupahoehoe after many days at sea.

One expects the people who work in museums, especially volunteers, to have a passion for the subject. No disappointment here! The people who have built this museum and host those who visit really care about sharing the information that may save lives in the future and preserve the historical events in Hilo's past.



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