‘It could have been worse’: Tsunami triggered by volcanic eruption in Tonga causes minor damage in West Hawaii

  • Sea Quest Hawaii at Keauhou Bay sustains damage after an early Saturday morning tsunami wave surged through the building. (Liam Powers/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Chairs are strewn at Sea Quest Hawaii at Keauhou Bay after an early Saturday morning tsunami wave surged through the building. (Liam Powers/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Sea Quest Hawaii at Keauhou Bay sustained damage in the early Saturday morning tsunami wave surged through the building. (Liam Powers/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Sea Quest Hawaii at Keauhou Bay sustains damage after an early Saturday morning tsunami wave surged through the building. (Liam Powers/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Pat Farrell, left and James Aukai repair a support knocked down by a tsunami wave that surged Kamakahonu Bay Saturday morning. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • The high water mark is visible on a rock wall at Kamakahonu Bay after a tsunami wave surged the beach early Saturday morning. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kahaluu Beach is closed Saturday morning to clean debris left from an early morning tsunami wave. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A picnic table at Kahaluu Beack is smashed after a tsunami wave hit the park around 2 a.m. Saturday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Rocks and sand are strewn across the Kahaluu Beach parking lot Saturday morning after a tsunami wave hit around 2 a.m. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Clean up is done at Kai Eats and Drinks after a tsunami wave surged through the restaurant. (Eric von Platen Luder/Special to West Hawaii Today)

A Keauhou Bay business sustained heavy damage Saturday morning as an approximately 3-foot tsunami surge tore through the Sea Quest retail store.

The tsunami, triggered by a volcanic eruption at Hunga-Tong-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano in Tonga around 6 p.m. Hawaii time on Friday, reached Hawaii’s shores about 2 a.m. Saturday causing relatively minor damage across West Hawaii. In addition to slamming Tonga, the waves caused damage to boats as far away as New Zealand and Santa Cruz, California.

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Manu and Liam Powers, owners of Sea Quest Hawaii, arrived at their store Saturday morning to find furniture and merchandise tossed around and strewn about the lanai. The force of the wave even knocked a 288-gallon propane tank over 30 feet onto the retail space and left chairs on the boat ramp.

“We have tens of thousands of dollars in damage,” said Manu Powers. “But it could have been worse.”

She said luckily the company’s boats were not damaged and they hope to resume operations today.

Other areas along Alii Drive fared better, with minor damage reported.

Kahalu‘u Beach Park was closed Saturday morning as county crews cleared debris. Rocks were strewn about and a picnic table was destroyed.

King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel was impacted by minor flooding. Parts of the hotel, including the pool, fitness center and Honu’s on the Beach restaurant were temporarily closed for assessment and remediation, according to a spokesperson for the hotel.

The hotel will reopen Honu’s on the Beach for breakfast service beginning today. The remainder of the property, including Billfish Bar and Grille, was not been impacted and remained open to guests and the public.

Kai Eats and Drinks in Kailua Village had water come up to the restaurant’s kitchen, but owner Eric von Platen Luder said it was minor, requiring a quick hose-down, and cleaning. The restaurant, which normally opens at 7 a.m. opened its doors by 10 a.m.

Down the street at Kamakahonu Bay, canoes were pushed into a rockwall by the surge. Kona Boys Beach Shack had a support pole ripped from its base and lost a yellow bench to the waves.

“If anyone sees the bench floating around, let us know,” said Pat Farrell as he and James Aukai cleaned up the debris.

Although everyone agreed it could have been worse, there was universal dismay about the warning system.

The first wave was reported to have reached West Hawaii around 2 a.m., however, the Hawaii County Civil Defense tsunami advisory was sent out at 2:03 a.m. That came after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center’s advisory issued at 12:40 a.m.

Sirens did not sound in West Hawaii, nor was there a watch or warning issue to advise residents of potential danger along the shoreline. A tsunami advisory is one level below a warning — and one step above a watch. It means dangerous waves of 1 to 3 feet and strong currents are expected.

“We are just lucky this did not happen during business hours,” Manu Powers said.

Hawaii County Civil Defense canceled the advisory at 8 a.m. Attempts to reach the county agency on Saturday were unsuccessful. Mayor Mitch Roth also did not respond to the newspaper as of press-time, regarding the incident as well as tsunami safety on the Big Island.

The last tsunami to impact West Hawaii was March 11, 2011, causing extensive damage from South Kona to South Kohala but no injuries or deaths. The hard-hit Kona Village Resort has yet to rebuild and reopen from the devastation caused by the waves triggered by the magnitude-9.1 earthquake off Japan. The newly renovated King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel was also severely damaged during the event.

For tsunami preparedness tips visit dod.hawaii.gov/hiema/public-resources/types-of-disaster/#tsunami or tsunami.gov.

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