Pacific Tsunami Museum aims to reopen late this summer

  • Pacific Tsunami Museum Director Marlene Murray stands in front of the museum last month. (Courtesy photo/Marlene Murray)

  • A new sign gives more context to the tsunami that hit Hilo in 1960 and destroyed Waiakea Kai school. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A new sign gives more context to the tsunami that hit Hilo in 1960 and destroyed Waiakea Kai school. The Pacific Tsunami Museum, with the help of Hawaii County Parks and Recreation, is installing informational signs at tsunami landfall sites.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum will reopen by the end of summer after completing substantial renovations.

The downtown Hilo museum closed in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and has remained shuttered.

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The museum delayed reopening after leadership decided to take the time during the pandemic to renovate and revamp many of the exhibits. Renovations will not be completed until late summer.

The museum is working on relocating and renovating the Japan exhibit, which focuses on the tsunami of 2011. The new exhibit will focus on the 2011 tsunami while also covering the history of tsunamis in Japan with new photos and information gathered from the last 10 years.

The museum also is adding a new natural hazards exhibit. The new area will step away from tsunamis and focus on hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and volcanic activity, which can all be experienced on Hawaii Island.

“The museum’s main focus will always be on tsunamis, but this will give people visiting an opportunity to learn more about Hawaii Island,” said Marlene Murray, director of the museum.

The museum also is updating the Big Island tsunamis exhibit with new interviews from survivors and more photos from the most recent tsunami that hit the island in 1975.

“I always felt the local tsunamis exhibit is one of our most important exhibits, because it is informative for people living here,” Murray said. “We wanted to add more information to that section.”

To commemorate all tsunami survivors, the museum will be installing a large mosaic that will show portraits of more than 200 survivors from around the world.

With help from Hawaii County Parks and Recreation, the museum will be installing informational signs at tsunami landfall sites across the county.

The signs will be located throughout East Hawaii and will share the stories and photographs that are relevant to the particular spot.

Through the pandemic, the museum has benefited greatly from Paycheck Protection Program loans and money from the CARES act. The museum also has applied for one of the Shuttered Venues grants.

“Luckily, we’ve had some wonderful people out there that have been renewing their memberships and sending donations specifically to keep supporting us,” Murray said. “We wish we could open earlier, but I’m excited for everyone to see all the changes.”

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Before reopening, the museum is looking for local artists to feature in its gift shop as well as volunteers to be docents when the museum reopens. Anyone interested can email director@tsunami.org.

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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