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‘First responders’ share stories at Pacific Tsunami Museum


April is Tsunami Awareness Month, and the Pacific Tsunami Museum’s 7th Annual Story Festival raises awareness by sharing the lessons and stories of the past.

This year, first responders to the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis that devastated Hilo, and killed 220 people statewide, will relate their stories through master storyteller Jeff Gere. 

The event, which includes dinner, is 6-9 p.m., Sunday, April 5 at Hilo’s Sangha Hall, 398 Kilauea Ave. Tickets are $25 and are available now at KTA stores in Hilo and the Pacific Tsunami Museum.

“The tsunamis are the two largest natural disasters to hit the Hawaiian Islands, and those first on the scene are unsung heroes who played a vital role for the community,” museum director Donna Saiki said.  

Among them is Yukio Takeya. 

The former Army National Guard captain and a team of medics were assigned the somber task of recovering bodies after the waves from the May 23, 1960 tsunami slammed into Hilo. They found 58 of the 61 people who died islandwide. The odor was so overpowering in the days after the tsunami that Takeya began smoking cigars.

 “I never smoked in my life, but that would kill the smell for awhile,” Takeya said.

Another first on the scene was Larry Kadooka, the former Hawaii Tribune-Herald photographer, whose collection of 1960 tsunami photographs are displayed prominently at Pacific Tsunami Museum. Kadooka snapped the photos that would help illustrate the community’s memory. One haunting image – that of a child’s doll abandoned in rubble – serves as a powerful symbol of loss.

Other first responders include then-Boy Scouts Ron Furukawa (now a retired principal) and Barry Taniguchi, president/CEO of KTA, who went out as a pair to render first aid. They were young boys, but the memories of hope and survival remain.

While the stories are especially poignant this year, Saiki points out that thanks to the perseverance of the local community, and its support of tsunami preparedness, the overall message is positive and proactive.

“We need to be prepared. The mission of the Pacific Tsunami Museum, and of the story festival, is to educate the public so that no more lives in Hawaii shall be lost to a tsunami,” Saiki said.

Master performer Jeff Gere is one of Hawaii’s most prolific and popular storytellers. He blends his talents as a painter, puppeteer, mime, teacher, and director into a performance style that has electrified audiences of every age throughout Hawaii and the mainland for two decades.  

The 7th Annual Pacific Tsunami Museum Story Festival is supported by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, KTA Superstores, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and Pacific Radio Group. Other sponsors who assist by volunteer services and donations are Hilo Honpa Hongwanji, Alpha Delta Kappa (Delta Chapter), Hilo High Key Club, and Big Island Cold Storage.

— Find out more:

Pacific Tsunami Museum: 935-0926,

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