The largest earthquake in over a century--magnitude 7.2 on the Richter Scale--struck Hawaii the morning of November 29, 1975, at 0448. It was centered about 5 km beneath the Kalapana area on the southeastern coast of the island at 19? 20.1 ' N., long 155? 01.4 ' W.). The earthquake was preceded by numerous foreshocks, the largest of which was a 5.7-magnitude jolt at 0336 the same morning, and was accompanied, or closely followed, by a tsunami seismic sea wave), massive ground movements, hundreds of aftershocks, and a volcanic eruption.
The tsunami reached a height of 12.2-14.6 m above sea level on the southeastern coast about 25 km west of the earthquake center, elsewhere generally 8 m or less. The south flank of Kilauea Volcano, which forms the southeastern part of the island, was deformed by dislocations along old and new faults along a 25-km long zone. Downward and seaward fault displacements resulted in widespread subsidence, locally as much as 3.5 m, leaving coconut palms standing in the sea and nearly submerging a small, near-shore island. A brief, small-volume volcanic eruption, triggered by the earthquake and associated ground movements occurred at Kilauea's summit about three-quarters of an hour later. The earthquake, together with the tsunami it generated, locally caused severe property damage in the southeastern part of the island; the tsunami also caused two deaths. Damage from the earthquake and related catastrophic events is estimated by the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency at about $4.1 million.
The 1975 Kalapana earthquake and accompanying events represent the latest events in a recurring pattern of behavior for Kilauea. A large earthquake of about the same magnitude, tsunami, subsidence, and eruption occurred at Kilauea in 1868, and a less powerful earthquake and similar related processes are believed to have occurred in 1823. Indeed, the geologic evidence suggests that such events have been repeated many times in Kilauea's past and will continue. The 1975 events serve as a critical, though tragic, reminder of the dynamic nature of the volcano and point up the need for careful land-use planning and adequate building codes to minimize damage and loss of life from similar events in the future.
Detailed scientific study of the cause and effects of the November 29, 1975, event will take many months. This report summarizes information available in February 1976.
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USGS Numbered Series
Earthquakes and related catastrophic events, Island of Hawaii, November 29, 1975; a preliminary report