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On April 2,1868, an earthquake of magnitude 7.9 occurred beneath the southern part of the island of Hawaii. The quake, which was felt throughout all of the Hawaiian Islands, had a Modified Mercalli (MM) intensity of XII near its source.The destruction caused by a quake that large is nearly complete. A landslide triggered by the quake buried a small village, killing 31 people, and a tsunami that swept over coastal settlements added to the death toll.

We know as much as we do about this and other early earthquakes thanks to detailed records kept by Hawaiian missionaries, including the remarkable diary maintained by the Lyman family that documented every earthquake felt at their home in Hilo between 1833 and 1917 [Wyss et al., 1992].Our analysis of these and other historical records indicates that Hawaii was at least as intensely seismic in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century as in its more recent past, with 26 M ≥6.0 earthquakes occurring from 1823 to 1903 and 20 M ≥6.0 earthquakes from 1904 to 1959. Just five M ≥6.0 earthquakes occurred from 1960 to 1999. The potential damage caused by a repeat of some of the larger historic events could be catastrophic today