A Visit to the Former “Tsunami Capital”

The sign below an exhibit at the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo, Hawai’i, claims that Hilo is “the tsunami capital of the world.” Dr George D. Curtis, the scientific advisor to the museum, covered that sign with his hand and said quietly, “now, we’ll have to change that.” That is just one of the things that will have to change in the aftermath of the December 26th Indian Ocean tsunami if the 200,000 lives that were lost are to have meaning. Disaster Education

On the way to the airport from the Tsunami Museum, we do what all reporters do; we talk to the taxi driver. What do you know about tsunamis we ask; what will you do if there’s a warning? He is quite uninformed; there’s plenty of work to be done in Hilo, the former tsunami capital of the world. The Pacific Tsunami Museum, with its motto, “Let us not forget,” is at the forefront. The museum is a voluntary effort. Small fees are charged from visitors, but it appears to run primarily on the donated labor of people like Curtis. Curtis showed us the non-functioning seismometer (too many school children had pawed at it, he said) and the unopened boxes containing replacements, donated by some scientific project that was retiring the old equipment in favor of the new digital ones.

He was particularly proud of a simulation that he had set up, where the visitor gets to make decisions on evacuation (the costs in multiple millions of US dollars are also announced when the decisi