Presently located within Chile, the city
of Arica has the sort of multi national past common to many cities
located near the border between two nations with a less than
friendly relationship, historically. The land along the extreme
northern coast of Chile, including Arica, was a part of Peru
from the country's inception until the later part of the nineteenth
century, when the War of the Pacific broke out. During the war,
Peru and Chile fought an off and on series of battles from 1879
to 1929. When the war finally ended in defeat for Peru, the country
was forced by treaty to ceed Arica, and the surrounding lands
to Chile. For our purposes however, at the time of the 1868 tsunami
Arica still belonged to Peru.
On August 16, 1868, a magnitude 8.5 earthquake
struck the area of the Peru-Chile Trench located just off of
Peru's extreme southern coast. The large earthquake that reduced
the port of Arica to rubble, also generated a huge trans-pacific
tsunami that struck Arica shortly after the earthquake ended.
Three navy ships were anchored in the port at the time of the
earthquake; two American, the warship US Watree and storeship
Fredonia; and one Peruvian, the warship Americana. Accounts from
crew members of the two American ships who survived the tsunami
give the following details. Several minutes after the quake the
first tsunami wave arrived at Arica as a rapid rise of water,
followed by a fierce withdrawal. The second wave estimated at
90 feet, was the largest. Its advance dashed the hapless Fredonia
to pieces on the rocks of a harbor island, killing all but two
crew members. The second wave snapped the moorings of both the
Americana and the Watree, and carried the two ships far inland,
where they eventually ran aground. When the ocean finally returned
to normal the Watree was, amazingly, still in near-perfect condition....
sitting on the beach 430 yards from the water!
Despite the height and ferocity of the
tsunami, the Watree reported only one casualty. The Americana
however, was not as lucky, loosing 83 men including the captain.
The tsunami was disastrous for the port of Arica as well, where
an estimated 25,000 people died as a result of the earthquake
and tsunami. The waves literally swept the low-lying parts of
the town clean, removing all traces, including the foundations,
of the structures that once existed there.
In total, the 1868 tsunami caused an estimated
300 million dollars in damage, and killed as many as 70,000 people
along the South American coast. Other Peruvian cities damaged
by the tsunami include Ilo/Pisco, where the tsunami killed 20
people and washed away both towns; and Tambo, where the waves
destroyed the town killing an estimated 500 people. The cities
of Callao, Mollendo and Trujillo were also damaged by the tsunami.
The tsunami caused considerable damage along the Chilean coastline
as well, damaging ships in Caldera, and completely submerging
the city of Iquique, killing 150 people.
Other locations across the Pacific also
suffered damage from this tsunami. Hawaii was hit particularly
hard, were runup reached 4.5 meters at Hilo, causing severe damage
to the waterfront. Further west, the tsunami generated 1.5 meters
of runup in Japan, and flooded the harbor of Yokohama. The tsunami
also generated sizable runup and some damage in New Zealand,
where heights reached 5.4 and 4.5 meters in the towns of Lyttleton
and Oamaru, respectively. Other location reporting the tsunami
include California, Oregon, Australia, Western Somoa, the Austral
Islands, Chatham Islands, and the always tsunami prone Marquesas