Manzanillo Sun article

Horses in the Treetops and Sharks in the Pond

2010 April 2010 Jim Evans Nature

By Jim Evans from the April 2010 Edition

Awhile was a typical Sunday afternoon in 1964 at the Grog Shop, a piano bar style watering hole, on Kalakaua Blvd in the heart of Waikiki… Ted, the piano player was as usual holding court and the regulars were awash in good spirits. An eclectic mixture of Airline Pilots, Flight attendants, a disc jockey, local surfers and pulchritudinous young ladies were working their way through the last afternoon before the dreaded drudgery of yet another Monday morning in paradise. An occasional “everybody suck ‘em up” could be heard above the light hearted banter…no one had as yet heard of “Cheers”, but at this beach side Bar and restaurant everyone certainly knew your name.

Then it happened, a ripple coursed through the twenty odd imbibers as the word “ Tsunami” was uttered, not in a light or jocular manner but in a deadly serious tone. Moments later the sirens along the beach wailed their warnings.. For a second the room was silent, then the mood changed and conversations turned to “Tidal Waves “and their destructive force… Ted suggested that the revelers adjourn to his seventh floor apartment adjacent to Waikiki Beach where an ample supply of the “ nectar of the Gods “ was available, it was perfect perch from which to observe an impending disaster … The mood once again lightened and the party, reduced to about fifteen hardy adventurers, trekked across the adjacent parking lot and ascended to the apartment. Out on Kalakaua Blvd police cruisers patrolled barking evacuation orders in lyrical Island Pigeon English through tinny loudspeakers and bull horns… meanwhile the party raged on, most everyone crowded onto the balcony to witness the impending “ killer wave”… nothing much happened, and many were disappointed that the initial event was marked by a somewhat less than stellar three inch recession.. There was some minor flooding later that day and the Honolulu Advertiser featured a front page photo of a local surfer, Bobby Ah Choy, riding the waves on Kalakau Blvd created by the police cruisers patrolling Waikiki chasing stragglers away from the area…

Those revelers on the Beach in 1964 were lucky.. But then it has been said that “God protects drunks and children” … It is far more likely that “ignorance was bliss”…


Tsunami (pronounced soo-NAH-mee) is a Japanese word. A tsunami is a series of large sea waves caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and occasionally generated by giant meteors impacting with the ocean. These events may generate a tsunami if they are of sufficient force to cause a violent movement of the Earth creating substantial and sudden displacement of massive amounts of water. They occur, not as a single wave, but as a series of waves which can be as long, peak to peak, as 60 miles (100 kilometers) and up to an hour apart.

A tsunami may be less than a foot (30 centimeters) in height on the surface of the open ocean, often going unnoticed by sailors. But the powerful shock wave of energy travels rapidly through the ocean as fast as a commercial jet. Once a tsunami reaches shallow water near the coast it is slowed down, and the top of the wave begins to move faster than the bottom, causing the sea to rise dramatically, creating havoc along coastal areas as it “breaks” along the shore.


Mexico lies in a zone where the North American, Cocos and Caribbean plates meet. These tectonic plates constantly shift, sometimes causing earthquakes which occasionally produce tsunamis. Earthquakes of magnitude 5 or more can cause considerable damage depending on their depth. These quakes over the years have produced huge killer waves.

On June 22, 1932 such a monster quake, force 8.2, and resultant wave struck Cuyutlan, a once thriving tourist destination, approximately 25 Kilometers southeast of Manzanillo. The first indications as related by historians were the disappearance of small animals, and an eerie silence that usually precedes a major earthquake. Then the first tremor, and the water started to recede, slowly at first then rapidly until the ocean floor was exposed to an incredible distance of 400 meters, or over 1300 ft… just less than a quarter mile… Then it struck, a wall of water 10 meters high , (over 30 feet) hit the coast with the speed and momentum of a runaway freight train inundating the area before its destructive energy dissipated The massive wave traveled over a kilometer inland destroying most of the city. Four hundred predominantly wooden structures, including the famous Hotel Ceballo, were shredded and seventy people lost their lives, while another one hundred people sustained injury. The devastation was everywhere, causing one eye witness to remark “there were horses in the tree tops and sharks in the ponds”. It was no wonder that most of the residents soon migrated to Armeria, gave up their fishing poles and to become farmers and merchants.

Over the years there have been many notable destructive tsunamis along the West coast of Central Mexico including one that came ashore on October 9, 1995. This 18 foot wave caused major damage from Cuyutlan to Barra De Navidad.

While Tsunami have been a major cause of property damage and death in most areas of the Pacific Ring of Fire, warning systems installed throughout most of the region usually predict the possibility of these “ killer waves” accurately. But, sometimes as we just saw recently with the massive Chilean earthquake the predictions of the wave sizes can be a bit overstated… this author having survived that less than fateful day on Waikiki Beach tends to take these predictions a little more seriously now and rather than judge warnings of enormous waves and impending disaster too harshly, as the media sometimes does, he usually just heads for higher ground with all the smaller wiser animalia, he certainly no longer jokes with old surfing buddies about waxing up one more time for the big one..… JE

For those of you interested highlight and drag the link below into the address bar of your browser… it contains amazing models and depictions of the 2004 tsunami that took over 200,000 lives in Sumatra. No Gory pictures, but some great pics and short videos of the cause and effect of this massive geological event…

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