Tsunami 1957 — Kalihiwai, Hanalei, Wainiha and Ha‘ena

The Tsunami of 1957 made the north shore of Kaua‘i pay a heavy price. The main and only bridge in Kalihiwai was completely destroyed. The main part of the concrete bridge, estimated at fifty tons of concrete, was lifted and carried about one hundred and fifty yards up stream. At this time the bridge was the only way to the north shore. On my way to Ha‘ena I was able to catch a ride on the other side of the stream and into Hanalei and Ha‘ena. On the return, we got a ride from the taro growers from Hanalei to Kalihiwai if we helped them transfer their bags of taro from the truck to a boat and then to another truck and on into Nawiliwili to the Young Bros. terminal. The Army was very quick to offer the use of a Bailey Bridge so that the traffic could get in and out of the North Shore towns.

Hanalei, which had almost no damage from the 1946 tsunami took a hit but not great. My in-laws, the Richard Sloggetts, had no damage in 1946 but had the front of their house bashed in.

Wainiha had some damage to the Nakatsuji store, the bridge and some of the lo’i (taro patch) on the Hanalei side of the valley. The bridge was out and the Nakatsuji’s thought their ledger book was lost. There were many people who were happy about the ledger being lost because they owed money for past purchases. Unfortunately for them the ledger was found and all debts were still legible. Henry Gomez went up the road from Wainiha to where he stood for the 1946 wave and this was not enough for the 1957 wave, he had to hug an electric pole or be swept away.

Ha‘ena took the biggest hit. Many new home lots had opened up and new homes built on the lots were all washed away by the wave. All the Hawaiian homes on the flats were also damaged by the wave and they relocated to three houses on my mother’s compound. At the height of the evacuation to my mother’s compound, there were 53 persons living in the houses. Their homes had been moved around their lots but no real damage, some more than others.

Mother had a deal with Charles Fern, the Publisher of The Garden Island Newspaper, in case of a tsunami she would get on the phone, telephone and tell him what was happening in Ha‘ena. When she heard that we were under a tsunami warning, she sent Tommy Hashimoto who worked for her, down to the beach with several sticks and placed them in a row up the beach. Charlie Fern was busy that day with Civil Defense business so he told his son Mickey to take the call from Mrs. Wichman and broadcast her conversation about the waves. After the first recession and the water began to rise, Mrs. Wichman would call out the sticks being submerged and finally when the water reached the road, those people on the rest of the island heard Mickey say in a loud voice, “Some dammed fool has cut us off.” That fool was the water that inundated the flats and was destroying many of the houses and also twelve telephone poles were never found. Now the people of Ha‘ena were really cut off. I got word that everybody was safe but mother needed cigarettes and toilet paper. The next day I went out as far as Kalihiwai with my truck and a gunny sack with the items she had asked for. I made my way by walking and bumming rides wherever I could and got to Ha‘ena. By than the Marines from PMRF were making runs for the Red Cross of food and other necessities, so on my return to Hanalei, I bummed a ride on one of the helicopters, this was my first ride in a helicopter.

After a week the two men in charge of the ferry across the Wainiha Stream were not getting along and mother was getting nervous so she asked me to come and help her. My grandfather let me go and off I went. Every day the Marines would land on the beach with supplies for as long as we needed them. The next piece of good news was that an LST (tank landing ship) was coming to land the poles needed for telephone and electrical service and trucks with all the other things needed to repair the service lines. There was also a bulldozer and some other heavy equipment.

People would ask “how is a ship as big as an LST able to get in and out of a small cove like Ha‘ena bay?”  I said it would be easy, “he would come into the bay as close as he could to the reef on the Tunnels side, drop an anchor and come right in and up on the beach. When it was time to leave, he would pull on his anchor and by the time his ship was at the anchor he would be faced out to sea. All he had to do was recover his anchor and off he went and that’s exactly what he did.” I have some pictures the LST on the shore unloading freight. Some of these pictures are in the Tsunami Museum in Hilo.

In the meantime the Hawaiians on the flats nearest Maniniholo dry cave were getting their houses back in their original position and where they came from I don’t know but they got plumbers and electricians from somewhere because when the electricity was turned on they moved right back into their homes. Not so some of the newer houses nearer the beach. There was major damage and some of the owners never came back.

I spent a little over a week sleeping on a couch. The mosquitoes were very appreciative as all the indoor beds were already taken and I was a speckled mess of mosquito bites.


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