Historic Earthquakes

1877 May 10 00:59 UTC
Magnitude 8.8

Description of the Tsunami Event
from "United States Tsunamis, 1690 - 1988"

1877, May 10, 00:59. A destructive magnitude 8.8 earthquake and catastrophic tsunami were generated off the northern coast of Chile. It was observed throughout the Pacific Basin including Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and California. The tsunami was observed at all the islands of the Hawaiian archipelago. The peak rise of water, depending on the contour of the coast, varied from 1 to 12 m above the lowest low tide mark. The following account is taken from Soloviev and Go (1975. p. 108-111):

Hilo, Hawaii: According to the local sheriff, unusual rises and falls of water in the bay started at 4:OO A.M. on the l0th. At about 5:OO A.M., the water rushed onshore in a large wave, which flooded almost all near-shore stores and washed away much lumber and all the stone barriers of the moorage. According to later measurements at the pier lamp post, the water had risen 3.7 m above the regular low tide mark. Thirty-seven houses were destroyed and 17 were heavily damaged. Five people died, seven were seriously injured, and 163 residents were left homeless.

Waiakea River area: In an instant all structures were washed away for a distance of 92 m from the shore. Debris from the steamship pier, a warehouse, the bridge across the river, and houses were tossed inland. The height of the wave in this region must have been 4.8 m. Seventeen horses and mules also drowned.

Coconut Island, Hawaii: Most of the island was flooded and the hospital was washed away. A little church was moved 60 m. An American whaler riding at anchor in the bay at a depth of 7 m touched bottom. Boats were lowered from the whaler and six residents were pulled from the water.

The rises and falls of sea level lasted all day. According to measurements of one of the oscillations at about 7:OO A.M., about 4 minutes elapsed from the minimal to the maximal water levels, and the water rose 4.2 m in this time. In the second half of the day, the water rose and fell three times per hour. As measured visually at 3:OO P.M., in 10 minutes the water rose 1.8 m above the high tide mark: 10 minutes later, the level fell to 0.6 m below the low tide mark: then the water rose in 8 minutes to 2.4 m above its mean level and fell in 12 minutes to the low tide mark. After this, it rose in 15 minutes to 1 m above the high tide mark.

The range of oscillations was 1.5 m at Kawaihae, on the western shore of Hawaii Island, and 9 m in Kealakekua Bay.

Kahului, Maui: The water retreated at about 445 A.M. and the bay dried up. Then the water began to flow through the mouth of the bay and rose 1.2-1.5 m above the regular flood tide mark. The second wave was not as large, the third was still smaller, but the fourth was almost the same size as the first. Flood and ebb tides were still larger than usual on the 12th, but the sea had calmed down.

Lahaina, Maui: On the southern coast of the island, the water rose 3.6 m.

Nawiliwili, Kauai: The water rose 0.9 m on the southeastern shore.

Honolulu, Oahu: At 5:20 A.M. on May 10th the water began leaving the bay rapidly. According to estimates, the water level fell 0.52 m in 5 minutes. The water returned at 6:OO A.M., and the level rose 0.85 m range in 10 minutes. Flood and ebb tides continued all day and night, but gradually abated with the greatest height being 1.45 m. (Soloviev and Go, 1975, p. 108-1 11)

Abridged from United States Tsunamis 1690-1988, (PDF) by J. Lander and P. Lockridge, 1989.