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Willa Shell, the heroine of the 1946 tidal wave

On Monday, April 1, 1946, two powerful tidal waves hit Kauai beginning about 6:30 a.m., and in their wake, 14 people died, three were missing, presumed dead, and seven were hospitalized for injuries.

Nine of the dead were small children.

And nearly every dwelling in the makai areas of Haena, Kalihikai, Kalihiwai, Moloaa and Wainiha were totally destroyed or damaged, while Anahola, Wailua and Nawiliwili were also hard hit.

Around 1 p.m., Kauai public health nurse Willa Shell (1922-2008) was at the Kilauea Sugar Co. dispensary when Henry Gomez of Wainiha and David La‘amea of Haena arrived with Mrs. La‘amea, one of the victims of the disaster.

Shell, a graduate of the College of Nursing and Health at the University of Cincinnati, who’d been appointed to her position in Nov. 1945, then gave first aid to Mrs. La‘amea before the woman was sent on to Lihue in an ambulance.

When Gomez and La‘amea said they were returning to Haena to look for the La‘amea’s missing children, Shell volunteered to go with them.

On their way, Shell, Gomez and La‘amea were forced to make treacherous fordings of two raging branches of the Wainiha River.

At Wainiha, where many of the victims were gathered, Shell provided first aid and made a list of the medicines, food and other essentials needed by the refugees.

Later that day, when Arthur Achor, Kauai’s Red Cross executive, arrived at Wainiha with 40 cots and blankets, Shell gave him the list she’d compiled of the articles he’d bring back on Tuesday.

After spending the night at Wainiha, Shell went on to Haena on the back of a mule and volunteered to help search for missing children.

Altogether she would spend 36 hours straight administering first aid and giving help to stricken people, the majority of whom were children.

Shell, the heroine of the ‘46 tidal wave, left Hawaii in the spring of 1948.

She married Kenneth Peterson, settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico and continued her career as a registered nurse.
Source: The Garden Island

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