Hawai‘i Redevelopment Agency
Hawai‘i County formed the Hawai‘i Redevelopment Agency shortly after the devastating 1960 tsunami to oversee relocation of businesses and residents, and economic development of the impacted area.
The project, also known as Kaiko‘o, or "rough seas," was the last major disaster recovery effort organized on Hawai‘i Island.
It's one example of how natural disasters have shaped development patterns and public investment in our island community. Read below to learn more about what happened and why.
May 23, 1960
"An earthquake in Chile triggered a series of seismic waves, or tsunamis, that flashed westward over the Pacific towards Hawaii.
Two small waves lapped innocuously along the shoreline of Hilo Bay in Hilo, Hawaii, just after midnight on May 23, 1960. An hour later a third wave, 35 feet high, roared past the breakwater and slammed into Hilo's central business and industrial district.
The wave killed 61 people. It brought pain, shock, severe injury to another 100 or more. It caused property damage varying in estimate from $22 million to $50 million. It demolished 288 structures, damaged another 291.
When stunned Hilo citizens and rescue workers stumbled through the wreckage in the chilly dawn hours, they found themselves ankle-deep in a mud and clay slime that oozed over the entire business district. An acrid stench filled their nostrils as runaway sewage bubbled steadily into the mud and slime.
The cold, merciless light of early morning illuminated old frame buildings that had been reduced to pieces of kindling; twisted and collapsed structures shoved many yards from their gaping foundations; massive, 20-ton boulders that had been flung inland like pebbles from the bayshore revetment; street pavements peeled from their bases like skin from an orange; hundreds of smashed hulks of automobiles – including one that had wrapped itself around a palm tree."
– Excerpt from Hawai‘i Redevelopment Agency report.
Some of the land acquired through the Hawai‘i Redevelopment Agency was elevated to reduce the impacts of future tsunamis. Today, the land includes County and State buildings and businesses stretching down Kīlauea Avenue toward downtown. On average, the land was raised to an elevation of 26 feet above sea level.
This map shows inundation levels from tsunamis in 1946, 1952, 1957 and 1960.
The 1960 tsunami killed 61 people; In 1946, a tsunami generated by an earthquake in Alaska's Aleutian Islands killed 159 people in Hawai‘i.
The tsunami tore through populated areas of Shinmachi and Waiākea Peninsula. Development was restricted in these areas afterward.