Historic Earthquakes

1877 May 10 00:59 UTC
Magnitude 8.3

Description of the Tsunami Event
from "Tsunamis Affecting the West Coast of the United States, 1806 - 1992"

1877, May 10, 0059 GMT. A magnitude 8.3 earthquake in Chile produced a 24-m tsunami that caused extensive damage along the Peru-Chile coast. The tsunami caused fatalities in Hawaii and Japan. It was well recorded at Fort Point and Sausalito with amplitudes of about 0.6 feet but not seen on the San Diego tide gage. On page 990 of the 1877 Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers, US. Army, is the following concerning San Pedro: "It may be well to notice here that an interesting and unusual phenomenon occurred on the morning of May 10th. Happily it did no damage of any amount. About seven o'clock in the morning, the tide being about four feet above low waters, the sea begun to rise, and in 2.5 minutes it rose 6.8 feet, submerging the work and a great deal of land on the shore which is little above high water. The wave retreated in a few minutes at a slower rate than it had advanced, falling five feet in nine minutes. There were a number of these oscillations during the day, but none so large as the one just described."

The Santa Cruz Weekly Courier (May 1 1, 1877, p. 3, col. 5) reports: "Tidal Waves. Yesterday morning two tidal waves visited us. The first occurred at 6:30 o'clock and the last at 7:30. The water in both cases receded sufficiently to lay bare the buoys stretched to the raft at Leibrant's bath house. The returning waves were high enough to reach half way up the pilings supporting the bath house. These phenomena are possibly caused by earthquakes agitating the ocean."

The Santa Cruz Local Item (May 11, 1877, p. 3): "Tidal Wave. We may look for tidings of some unusual commotion of some point on the Pacific Ocean if the unusual occurrences remarked on our Bay yesterday morning shall be counted as anything. Captain Sagar informs us that about five o'clock yesterday morning the water of the Bay gradually rose about nine feet running up on the beach to within a short distance of the bath house, stopped a moment and then gradually receded. The rise of the water was first noticed by the precipitable rising of the steamer which was lying at the wharf. There was no sea on and it seemed more like a gentle swell rolling in, then resting for a second and then receding in the same manner. The water was higher than on any occasion since the southeast storms of last winter."

The Los Angeles Evening Express (May 11, 1877), "The Ocean on a Bender" from the Anaheim correspondent on the 10th: "At half past six A.M. when the tide ought to have been rising regularly (at eight A.M. was to be high water) the water suddenly rose up to about five feet in the course of about five minutes. After being tossed and stirred up a few minutes it suddenly rushed out again and fell five or six feet in five minutes. The current was frightfully swift to look at in the creek. Two of the sailors, just then coming in, in a small row boat were suddenly carried far up into the creek beyond their destination. Then suddenly they were rushed back again and barely could make the shore before being carried out to sea. A lighter [boat] loaded with lumber was being brought up the creek at the same time and became also unmanageable. The tide rushed in and out every five minutes at such velocity it would at one time leave the lighter high and dry upon the beach and again it would be floating in six or eight feet of water. After having attempted a dozen times without success to bring in the lighter, the puzzled Captain Wilson gave it up in disgust and anchored the lighter out at sea. When the tide fell it would always leave a number of sharks and other fish on dry land, floundering and spluttering in sand only to be washed off again into the water within the next few minutes. At the same time the water in the creek seemed tossed and stirred up by some force."

"Gaviota, May 10th. A tidal wave was observed at this place from ten minutes past seven to thirty minutes past nine this morning. The ocean rose and fell three times to a height of twelve feet. No damage."

The Sun Diego Union Weekly (May 17, 1877, p. 3) reported, "The rise of the tide at Wilmington on Friday was eleven feet."

This tsunami apparently did not cause any damage but if a similar wave occurred again it could be quite destructive due to the development of the area. Validity 4.

Abridged from Tsunamis Affecting the West Coast of the United States, 1806-1992, (PDF) by J. Lander, P. Lockridge, and M. Kozuch, 1993.