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Sunday, September 8, 2002



[ A DECADE AFTER THE DISASTER ]

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Just 2 people died during
the storm, but it flattened
1,200 homes and damaged 11,700

By the numbers



By Anthony Sommer
tsommer@starbulletin.com

LIHUE >> Hurricane Iniki, the most powerful hurricane in the recorded history of Hawaii and one of the costliest in the history of the United States, was born on Aug. 18, 1992, off the west coast of Africa.

Iniki was spotted by weather forecasters only four days after the formation of Hurricane Andrew, which would shortly devastate southern Florida.

Originally named Tropical Depression 18-E, it tracked across northern South America and Central America and into the Pacific Ocean on Aug. 28, according to National Weather Service records.

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On Sept. 8 it was upgraded to a tropical storm and named Iniki. On Sept. 9 it was upgraded to Hurricane Iniki.

Many Kauai residents say Iniki "snuck up" on the island, appearing to head away and then suddenly turning back toward Kauai. And the storm track shows they are right.

On the morning of Sept. 10, Iniki passed 300 miles south of South Point on the Big Island moving west and slowing and strengthening.

On the afternoon of Sept. 10, Iniki turned more and more to the northwest. Hurricane warnings were issued for Kauai and Niihau at 8:30 p.m. Iniki continued to turn even more northward.

By 11 a.m. on Sept. 11, the eye of Iniki was southwest of Lihue, and its track had turned north-northeast, swinging directly toward Kauai. At 3 p.m., Iniki was 37 miles southwest of Lihue.

At 3:30 p.m. the eye of the hurricane crossed the south coast of Kauai just east of Waimea, moved over the island on a compass course of 15 degrees at a speed of 25 mph and departed Haena on the north coast 40 minutes later.

Estimated sustained winds over land were 140 mph with gusts to 175 mph, making Iniki the most powerful hurricane to strike Hawaii in more than a century.

"The path (the eye of) Iniki took was the worst possible, placing most of the island in the dangerous semicircle," according to the National Weather Service history of the storm.

Iniki continued to move north, weakened and ceased to be strong enough to be considered a danger by Sept. 13.

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Damage was extensive throughout the island, but the most dramatic was ocean damage along the south shore around the Poipu resort district where hotels and condominiums were ripped apart.

"Early the next day, we did a helicopter tour of the island," recalls then Mayor JoAnn Yukimura. "When we circled over Poipu, I couldn't even recognize the coastline. That's when I started crying. It was such a shock."

According to FEMA figures, of 20,000 homes on Kauai, 1,200 were destroyed and 11,700 were damaged. More than 7,000 people were left homeless.

About 7,200 units in Kauai's 70 hotels and time-share resorts were damaged.

Electricity and telephone service was lost throughout the island, and only 20 percent of the island had power four weeks after the storm. Kauai Electric lost 450 of its 1,700 transmission poles, 5,550 of it 15,000 distribution poles and 280 of its 800 miles of distribution wire.

All radio stations, including the Civil Defense station, were knocked off the air. Both microwave towers providing long-distance telephone service were destroyed. Much of the island's water supply was contaminated, creating a major problem for the 15,000 Kauai residents who sought refuge at storm shelters.

Yukimura recalls the only way she could communicate with the county water department, several blocks away from the county building, was through messages carried by bicycle.

Crop damage was extensive. Luckily, most of 1992's sugar crop already had been harvested.

The monetary value of the storm damage was set at $3 billion.

The number of deaths was remarkably small. Just two Kauai residents died during the storm: Patricia Thomas, 79, of Kapaa, died of a heart attack after her house collapsed. Eleodoro Garcia, 77, of Kilauea, was killed by flying debris.

Two Japanese citizens living in Honolulu -- Masa Hatanaka, 57, and Nabuo Saito, 33 -- were killed when Hatanaka's 54-foot fishing boat Half Moon Bay capsized. A third man on the boat, Robert Ward, 50, of California, was rescued by the Coast Guard after clinging to a floating water tank for 20 hours.

Air National Guardsman Dennis Dalen, 46, of Hickam Air Force Base, was killed during storm cleanup on Kauai's north shore when the truck he was driving flipped as he tried to avoid live power wires.

"He was a man who actually gave his life to help us," Yukimura said at his funeral.



HURRICANE INIKI
REMEMBERED:

» A decade after
» Deadly power
» Lingering fear
» First-hand view
» Resort's ruins
» Then and now





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By the numbers



By any measure except loss of life, Hurricane Iniki, which pounded Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992, was by far the worst natural disaster in recorded Hawaii history. Some facts and figures:

$3 billion

Estimated total damage, making the hurricane the third most destructive in United States history.

140

Maximum sustained winds, according to the National Weather Service. Gusts were recorded as high as 175 mph.

1,200

Number of homes totally destroyed, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There were 20,000 homes on Kauai.

11,700

Number of homes that suffered damage, according to FEMA. Of those, 3,000 were severely damaged.

7,000

Number of people left homeless. It is also the number of residents who moved because of a lack of housing and jobs.

$78 million

Damage to crops. Most of the island's sugar crop already had been harvested. Only half the 1992 coffee crop was saved.

2

Number of Kauai residents killed. One man was struck by debris and an elderly woman suffered a heart attack when her house collapsed.

6,000

Number of Kauai Electric's poles toppled. Winds felled 450 of the 1,700 transmission poles and 5,550 of 15,000 distribution poles.



HURRICANE INIKI
REMEMBERED:

» A decade after
» Deadly power
» Lingering fear
» First-hand view
» Resort's ruins
» Then and now






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