Year
1960
Month Day
May 23

Deadly tsunami hits Hawaii

A tsunami caused by an earthquake off the coast of Chile travels across the Pacific Ocean and kills 61 people in Hilo, Hawaii, on May 23, 1960. The massive 9.5-magnitude quake had killed thousands in Chile the previous day.

The earthquake, involving a severe plate shift, caused a large displacement of water off the coast of southern Chile at 3:11 p.m. Traveling at speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour, the tsunami moved west and north. On the west coast of the United States, the waves caused an estimated $1 million in damages, but were not deadly.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning System, established in 1948 in response to another deadly tsunami, worked properly and warnings were issued to Hawaiians six hours before the wave’s expected arrival. Some people ignored the warnings, however, and others actually headed to the coast in order to view the wave. Arriving only a minute after predicted, the tsunami destroyed Hilo Bay on the island of Hawaii. Thirty-five-foot waves bent parking meters to the ground and wiped away most buildings. A 10-ton tractor was swept out to sea. Reports indicate that the 20-ton boulders making up the sea wall were moved 500 feet. Sixty-one people died in Hilo, the worst-hit area of the island chain.

The tsunami continued to race further west across the Pacific. Ten thousand miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter, Japan, despite ample warning time, was not able to warn the people in harm’s way. At about 6 p.m., more than a day after the earthquake, the tsunami struck the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. The crushing wave killed 180 people, left 50,000 more homeless and caused $400 million in damages.

READ MORE: The Deadliest Earthquake Ever Recorded 

Tags
terms:
Tsunami

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Ireland legalizes same-sex marriage

On May 23, 2015 thousands of LGBTQ activists celebrated as Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through referendum. The referendum passed with 62% of voters (1.2 million people) voting yes. The vote attracted a large turnout, with 60.5% of eligible ...read more

High-ranking Nazi official Adolf Eichmann captured

On May 23, 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announces to the world that Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann has been captured and will stand trial in Israel. Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer who organized Adolf Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question,” was seized ...read more

New York Public Library dedicated

In a ceremony presided over by President William Howard Taft, the New York Public Library, the largest marble structure ever constructed in the United States, is dedicated in New York City. Occupying a two-block section of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets, the ...read more

Captain Kidd is executed

At London’s Execution Dock, British privateer William Kidd, popularly known as Captain Kidd, is hanged for piracy and murder. Born in Strathclyde, Scotland, Kidd established himself as a sea captain before settling in New York in 1690, where he bought property and married. At ...read more

Nazi SS Chief Heinrich Himmler dies by suicide

On May 23, 1945, Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, assistant chief of the Gestapo, and architect of Hitler’s program to exterminate European Jews, dies by suicide one day after being arrested by the British. As head of the Waffen-Schutzstaffel (the military arm of the Nazi ...read more

Police kill famous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde

On May 23, 1934, notorious criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are shot to death by Texas and Louisiana state police while driving a stolen car near Sailes, Louisiana. Bonnie Parker met the charismatic Clyde Barrow in Texas when she was 19 years old and her husband (she ...read more

Lord Mountbatten, cousin to a king, sunk by German dive-bombers

On May 23, 1941, Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, second cousin of King George VI of Britain and the only man other than the king to hold rank in all three military services simultaneously, is among those thrown into the Mediterranean Sea when his destroyer, the HMS Kelly, is ...read more

George W. Bush recovers from bicycle accident

On May 23, 2004, as reported in the Washington Post, President George Bush recovers from a bicycle accident he’d had the day before. Bush had taken up mountain biking for exercise at the suggestion of physicians. Reporter Dana Milbank recounted how Bush fell from his mountain ...read more

Tom Petty defies his record label and files for bankruptcy

The music industry is notorious for its creative accounting practices and for onerous contracts that can keep even some top-selling artists perpetually in debt to their record labels. In a typical recording contract, a record label advances an artist a certain sum of money ...read more

Federal Republic of Germany is established

The Federal Republic of Germany (popularly known as West Germany) is formally established as a separate and independent nation. This action marked the effective end to any discussion of reuniting East and West Germany. In the period after World War II, Germany was divided into ...read more

Meigs Expedition claims sole Patriot victory on Long Island

At Sag Harbor, New York, Patriot troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs capture several British vessels and burn Redcoat supplies. With the help of two local men, Meigs and his Connecticut raiders grabbed the British commander from his bed in the ...read more

Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary

On May 23, 1915, Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary, entering World War I on the side of the Allies—Britain, France and Russia. When World War I broke out in the summer of 1914, Italy declared itself neutral in the conflict, despite its membership in the so-called Triple ...read more