Tsunami Proofing: Where to Put Walls, Why to Keep Trees

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Fryer said, "The shoreline is a very attractive place, and we're prepared to put up with a lot to live there." However, he added, people need to acknowledge that hazards exist and adjust their building habits.

Tsunami "World Capital"

Fryer points to the Hawaiian Islands, describing them as "tsunami capital of the world." The islands earn the moniker because of their proximity to earthquake-prone trenches of the Pacific Ocean. The volcanic islands are also surrounded by undersea volcanoes that are prone to landslides, which can generate tsunamis.

The city of Hilo on the island of Hawaii, for example, was struck by a tsunami in 1946 and again in 1960. After the second set of destructive waves, city residents said enough is enough and moved Hilo inland.

The millions of tourists who flock to the Hawaiian Islands each year, however, have little intention of spending their holidays away from the beach—a reality that requires local officials to prepare escape plans.

Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu is Hawaii's most popular destination. The beach itself is lined with towering hotels.

In 1986 a tsunami warning caused a full coastal evacuation in Hawaii, Fryer said. Waikiki was evacuated according to the existing escape plan, which quickly resulted in traffic gridlock—which would have been a disastrous situation had the tsunami warning been real.

In the event of a tsunami warning today, civil planners call for Waikiki visitors, residents, and workers to move to the upper floors of beachfront hotels.

"All the hotels in Waikiki were built half with the expectation there would be a big flooding event, so quite intentionally they have breakaway walls facing the ocean," Fryer said.

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