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Explore Maui History: The 1946 Tsunami

Keanae church
Keanae church

When you travel the Road to Hana, you can explore Maui History by veering off the highway before milepost 17. Down the hill you go to the Keanae Peninsula, where taro fields still abound and Aunty Sandy’s banana bread stand draws people from around the world. Friendly Hawaiians wave from their porches and Hala trees line the shore. It is a quiet little community, rebuilt after the tsunami of 1946.

On April 1 at about 2am Hawaiian time a 7.4 magnitude earthquake occurred in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Five hours later, the giant waves resulting from the seafloor movement struck the north shore of Maui, wiping out everything on Keanae except for the Congregational Church, or Lanakila Ihihi O lehova O na Kaua. This small stone church built in 1856 withstood the forces of the giant tidal wave. It was the only thing that did. Houses, agricultural fields, people…all destroyed.

People that experienced the destructive forces on April 1 recall being warned by friends or loved ones that “something” was happening but not believing them at all. A man who told his friend that the wharf was empty was laughed at. “You won’t fool me on April Fool’s Day.” he exclaimed. Similar stories appear across the board according to University of Hawaii’s Center for Oral History.

It was a tragic day in Hawaiian History.

If you have the chance to visit Keanae, we highly recommend it. The stone church is beautiful, as is the surrounding area. Bring aloha to this peaceful area and let it remind you to be thankful for everything, every day.

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