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Pacific Tsunami Museum

Coordinates: 19°43′33″N 155°5′12″W / 19.72583°N 155.08667°W / 19.72583; -155.08667
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Pacific Tsunami Museum
The Pacific Tsunami Museum is housed in a former First Hawaiian Bank building in downtown Hilo, Hawaii
Former name
Hilo Tsunami Museum
Established31 August 1994 (1994-08-31)
Location130 Kamehameha Avenue
Hilo, Hawaii
Coordinates19°43′33″N 155°5′12″W / 19.72583°N 155.08667°W / 19.72583; -155.08667
Visitorsmore than 20,000/yr[1]
    • Jeanne Branch Johnston
    • Dr. Walter Dudley
Executive director
    • Donna Saiki (1994–2013)
    • Marlene Murray (2013-2022
    • Cindi Preller (2022+)
ArchitectCharles W. Dickey

The Pacific Tsunami Museum (originally, the Hilo Tsunami Museum) is a museum in Hilo, Hawaii dedicated to the history of the April 1, 1946 Pacific tsunami and the May 23, 1960 Chilean tsunami[2] which devastated much of the east coast of the Big Island, especially Hilo. The museum also has a mission to educate people in general about tsunamis, including the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. It is located at 130 Kamehameha Avenue, at the intersection of Kamehameha and Kalakaua in downtown Hilo.[3]

One of the founders of the museum, Dr. Walter Dudley, serves as chairman of the museum's Scientific Advisory Council and is the President of the Board.[4]


The 1946 Tsunami in Hilo

The museum traces its origins to 1988, when Dr. Walter Dudley, a professor at the University of Hawaii–Hilo, was soliciting survivor stories from the community for his book Tsunami!.[4][5] Dr. Dudley would later publish additional chronicles of tsunami survivors.[6]

Jeanne Branch Johnston, a tsunami survivor,[7] decided there was a need for a tsunami museum in 1993 and formed a steering committee; she and Dr. Dudley co-founded the museum that year.[4][8] The museum was incorporated in August 1994;[9] partners include the International Tsunami Information Center, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, the University of Hawaiʻi (both the Hilo and Manoa campuses), and State and County Civil Defense Agencies.[10] Early solicitations for fundraising were for the Hilo Tsunami Museum.[11] Johnston, Dudley, and Michael Childers began compiling an oral history of tsunami survivors from Hawaiʻi, Alaska, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Maldives, with more than 450 survivor stories archived at the museum.[12]

On May 22, 1997, First Hawaiian Bank announced it would donate its Kamehameha Branch building as the permanent site for the museum.[4] The building, originally completed in 1930 to a design by local architect Charles W. Dickey, was turned over to the museum in December, and the museum opened to the public in June 1998.[10] Funds for the renovation were provided in part by the Federal Emergency Management Agency under its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.[13] Previously, temporary exhibits were shown at the nearby S. H. Kress & Co. building.[10] The ex-Bank building is approximately 5,300 sq ft (490 m2), with exhibits on the ground floor; the basement is used mostly for storage, and the upper floor is used for offices and archives.[9]: 7 

Donna Saiki (née Weiss), who was the principal at Hilo High School from 1988 to 1996, also served as the first volunteer executive director of the museum starting in 1994 until June 2013. Saiki recruited members, volunteers, and donors;[14] her husband Ronald was a youth sports coach in Keaukaha.[15] Marlene Murray succeeded Saiki as the executive director in June 2013.[9]: 7  The museum building was retrofitted with photovoltaic arrays in 2014.[9]: 7  A new science room was added in April 2016.[16]

The museum was closed temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Hawaii, and reopened with permanent hours in March 2023.[17] Several exhibits have been renovated and expanded, including a new Exhibit about Hawaii's Natural Hazards.[18] There is currently plans in the works to establish a new exhibit about the 2022 Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai eruption and tsunami.


  1. ^ Murray, Marlene (January 15, 2019). Operating Grant Request, Pacific Tsunami Museum (PDF) (Report). State of Hawaiʻi, Thirtieth Legislature. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  2. ^ "1960 Tsunami". Drgeorgepc.com. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  3. ^ Pacific Tsunami Museum official web site
  4. ^ a b c d "History". Pacific Tsunami Museum. Archived from the original on October 17, 2015. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  5. ^ Dudley, Walter C.; Lee, Min (1988). Tsunami!. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824811259. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  6. ^ Dudley, Walter; Stone, Scott (2000). The Tsunami of 1946 and 1960 and the Devastation of Hilo Town. The Donning Company. ISBN 1-57864-123-3.
  7. ^ Jeanne Branch Johnston (April 9, 1998). "Tsunamis Remembered: Oral Histories of Survivors and Observers in Hawaiʻi | Interview with Jeanne Branch Johnston" (Interview). Interviewed by Warren Nishimoto. University of Hawaiʻi. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  8. ^ Rozell, Ned (December 31, 2014). "1946 tsunami survivor shares her story". Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d Grant Request - Operating: Pacific Tsunami Museum (PDF) (Report). State of Hawaiʻi, Twenty-Ninth Legislature. January 16, 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  10. ^ a b c "Mission". Pacific Tsunami Museum. Archived from the original on December 1, 1998.
  11. ^ "Tsunami Museum Is Important To This Community (advertisement)". Hawaii Tribune-Herald. April 23, 1995. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  12. ^ "Tsunami survivor Jeanne Johnston shares story". Hawaii News Now. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  13. ^ "Pacific Tsunami Museum Museum Educates New Generations". Federal Emergency Management Agency. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  14. ^ "Donna Saiki". Durand Courier-Wedge. November 9, 2017. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  15. ^ "Coach Saiki to be honored at Hualani Park". Hawaii Tribune-Herald. November 14, 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  16. ^ "Pacific Tsunami Museum Opens New Science Room". Big Island Video News. April 20, 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  17. ^ "Pacific Tsunami Museum reopens: 'Through stories, we can teach people how to survive'". Hawaii Tribune Herald. March 26, 2023. Retrieved 7 June 2023.
  18. ^ "Tsunami museum reopens in Hilo: Today marks anniversary of devastating 1946 wave". Hawaii Tribune-Herald. April 1, 202. Retrieved 7 June 2023.

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