Memories return like a boomerang that I thought were flung far from the spot where I am standing, here in the backyard of our Kauai vacation rentals. The storm started days earlier than September 11, 1992. Mapping the tropical depression that was soon to be christened Iniki about 3 days before it entered Kauai waters. Plotting its course on a full page grid of the Islands provided to us by the Garden Island newspaper. Magic marker ink spots charting its shaky progress each morning before setting off to hunt and gather supplies. All of which were in short supply.
No time to anguish about plywood sizes, buy whatever you could get your hands on to board windows and doors. Critical windows and doors received wood, and once depleted, tape. With cellophane like U.S. Postal tape, making criss crossy patterns on windows that reflected darkening clouds. The blues and reds of the tape had more of a Christmas spirit feel, only the bold white lettering stating “For Official Use Only” brought me back to the job at hand. How will I ever remove this tape once the storm passes I innocently thought ?
Are you ever really prepared? Of course not. Gather documents, photographs, memories, take quick glances for the seemingly important things you may have missed. Squirrel things under a bed, in the tub, under that empty kitchen cabinet, any place that may provide protection. Stuff yourself and the animals into an already gorged car and head for shelter away from the coast.
We hightailed it to my office at the Kekaha Sugar Company where with two colleagues and their families we hunkered down at noon to ride out the storm. When a large Monkeypod tree fell and pierced the 60 year old roof we retreated to a concrete encased walk-in safe. And boy did Iniki make her presence known with sustained winds of 145 MPH, no structure avoided its wrath.
Thirty minutes away on the South Shore this catastrophic storm was whipping the ocean into a fury, sending avalanches of water into the coastline. Upending rock walls and elderly trees like a spoiled child destroying its toys. Lifting sections of roof in playful fits before sending a super gust that somersaulted remaining sections into neighbors yards.
The storm sent walls of water up the normally tranquil Waikomo Stream to just 3 feet from the top of the rock wall surrounding our swimming pool. In the aftermath we saw the banks of the stream laid bare by the forces of nature. Only a large monkey pod tree remained rooted directly across the Stream. And in the aftermath, holes reminded us where a palm tree stood 24 hours earlier. About 50 yards from the Suites there was a mountain of biomass that temporarily altered the course of the Stream. The winds hammered this side of the island with such force that it sucked 75% percent of the water from the pool.
The winds subsided about 6pm to a steady 60 MPH, it would be a long night before daylight would reveal what the storm left us. It was a fitful night with little sleep. Broken windows allowed easy access to mosquitoes that hunkered down safely during the gale only to emerge ravenous. Hungrily feasting on exposed body parts.
The next day was hot and humid. Accessing Poipu was difficult. Police checkpoints sprung up in Koloa town in an effort to prevent looters from easy pickings. With a copy of our latest mortgage statement to prove ownership, we made our way down Poipu road weaving our way to Puuholo road.
The Suites lost its roof early in the storm along with three of its four walls on the upper floor lay contentedly in the neighbors back yard. Our once regal coconut palms lay defeated blocking the entrance to the property, only yielding when they encountered my chainsaw.
The next week was a blur. Work, sweat, minor cuts and scrapes, eating MRE’s (Meals ready to eat) provided by the U.S. Army. Removing debris out of yards onto the street. Creating mountainous piles along the street to a point where only a single car could pass down an aisle once called Puuholo road.
It would take us a year to begin rebuilding, but we were determined to do it right. We found a local contractor with years of construction under his belt who understood what we wanted and most importantly was fair.
What did we learn?
Life is short
It’s only stuff
You can rebuild stronger and better
You don’t need electricity ( we lived 5 months without power while the Insurance companies battled )
You do need patience and Aloha
Twenty Years On
Kauai’s economy has recovered. Tourism is our economic engine. Only one painful reminder of Iniki is visible on the Kauai landscape. The Coco Palms hotel in Wailua still remains shuttered. However there maybe a resolution, recent reports reveal that an investor group is interested in this historic site. We remain hopeful.
Twenty years after the terror of this event I found this Black Crowned Night Heron along the tranquil Waikomo Stream watching striped bass and tilapia in our back yard at Turtle Cove Suites.