An estimated 85 percent of all tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean. Japan is particularly vulnerable as it sits on the border of an area of mountain chains, deep-ocean trenches known as the "Ring of Fire", a region of the Pacific Ocean that's prone to sharp movement of tectonic plates on the ocean floor.
Although early warning system now exist, the unfortunate truth is that scientists still remain unable to predict the timing, size or location of future large earthquakes.
1929: Grand Banks, NewfoundlandOn November 18, 1929, 29 people died after a combination sub-marine landslide and earthquake with a 7.2 magnitude occurred off the coast of Grand Banks, Newfoundland. The tsunami was exacerbated by the force of the accompanying landslide. Scientists registered the force of the tsunami as far away as South Carolina and Portugal.
1946 Aleutian tsunamiA 7.8 earthquake off the coast of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska on April 1, 1946 triggered a tsunami which caused the death of 165 people and caused more than $26 million in damage. The tsunami, which spread throughout the Pacific, slammed into the Hawaiian Islands, where it devastated the city of Hilo, Hawaii.
The accompanying photo displays what at the time was the newly-built Scotch Cap Lighthouse on Unimak Island, Alaska. Five men working at the five-stories high lighthouse died as the flooding overwhelmed the structure.
1946 Aleutian tsunamiThis is all that remained of the lighthouse after the 1946 Aleutian tsunami. The loss in life caused would lead a couple of years later to the creation of an early seismic wave warning system, now known as the Pacific Tsunami Warning System.
1946: Hilo, Hawaii (1946 Aleutian tsunami)Tsunami hitting Cocoanut Island, Hilo Bay, Hawaii.
1946: Hilo, Hawaii (1946 Aleutian tsunami)Waves breach the breakwater on the beachfront area at the Puumaile Tuberculosis Hospital east of Hilo, Hawaii To get a sense of the power of the tsunami, consider this: the source of the event occurred roughly 3,800 kilometers away.
1952 Kamchatka Peninsula tsunamiA Pacific-wide tsunami resulted after an 8.2 earthquake off the coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula on Nov. 4, 1952. As it rumbled east across the pacific, the tsunami flooded Hawaii's Midway Island and caused widespread damage to Honolulu and Hilo Bay. Luckily, nobody died this time - but it easily might have turned out differently. In Hilo Bay, a powerful wave lifted a small bridge off its foundation and left it destroyed. In Honolulu, waves tossed a cement barge into a freighter.
The accompanying photo shows an aerial view of Kaika Bay near Haleiwa on the north shore of Oahu, where waves moved toward beach houses. You may also be able to make out the extent of inundation from previous waves.
1957 Aleutian tsunamiFive years later, another massive earthquake near Alaska's Aleutian Islands caused another tsunami. The 8.3 temblor hit on March 9, 1957, south of the Andreanof Islands, in the Aleutian chain. Houses, bridges and highways in Hawaii suffered major damage. In the accompanying photo, you can see the arrival of a big wave at Laie Point on the Island of Oahu.
1957 Aleutian tsunamiA few minutes later, the waves inundate the same area. You can read more about the 1957 tsunami here.
1960 Chilean tsunamiThis one was a killer. A Pacific-wide tsunami was triggered on May 22, 1960, by an 8.6 magnitude earthquake off the coast of South Central Chile. The death count was estimated to be between 490 and 2,290 people lost. Damage estimates were over a half billion dollars.
The chronology of events that day took a particularly tragic turn in Chile, when inhabitants who took out small boats to escape the shaking returned soon afterward - just in time to die when a massive breaker swamped all of their vessels.After the tsunami had passed the Hawaiian Islands damage costs were estimated at $24 million and 61 people had died. Hilo once again turned into a punching for the tsunami. Some reports at the time said that residents ignored the warning sirens. Whatever the truth, 61 people died. In Japan, where the tsunami arrived nearly a day after the earthquake, 142 people lost their lives. In this photo, a view of the debris and bent parking meters left by the waves which inundated Hilo.
1964 Prince William Sound tsunamiAn earthquake with an 8.4 woke up residents of Prince William Sound, Alaska on magnitude on March 28, 1964. More than 122 people died as tsunami waves spread across the Pacific.
1976 Moro GulfOn July 23, 2010, the Moro Gulf region of the Philippines was devastated by a series of tsunamis triggered by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake - followed in rapid succession by earthquakes of magnitudes 7.6 and 7.4. Official counts put the death toll at over 8,000. About 90,000 people were left homeless. The Moro Gulf (not indicated on this map) is located south of Mindanao facing the Celebes Sea
2004 Indian Ocean tsunamiAn estimated 300,000 people died in 2004 after an earthquake with a magnitude estimated between 9.1 and 9.3 hit on December 26, 2004. That second-biggest recorded earthquake was responsible for setting off a series of tsunamis around the Pacific - including Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. Its waves reached Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania in eastern Africa.
The 2004 tsunami wasn't the first to devastate the region. In 1883, the 1883 Krakatau volcanic eruption triggered a tsunami in which more than 36,000 people died.