The people of Kauai lived
through a nightmare when
the powerful storm struck

By Anthony Sommer

LIHUE >> A few nights after Hurricane Iniki demolished their Princeville home, Davey Cook, then 3, awoke from a deep sleep and told his parents that it was all fixed, that everything was back the way it had been before the storm.


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

"He was having a dream," said his father, Chris Cook, at the time an aide to Mayor JoAnn Yukimura and now editor of the Garden Island, Kauai's daily newspaper.

"It was the only home he had ever known, and it had been destroyed and he wanted it to be fixed. And in his dream it was.

"For the next three years, his teachers would tell us that whenever Davey drew pictures, he would only draw dark circles -- storm clouds."

The story told by Cook about how he and his wife, Evelyn, and their sons, Christian and Davey, survived the storm could be repeated throughout the island thousands of times.

"We had been hiding in a bedroom in the lee of the storm winds," Cook recalled. "A glass louver broke, driving us into the bathroom. Five minutes later, a window shattered in the bedroom, preceded by a loud thud," Cook later recalled.

"It looked like a lumber yard had been delivered into the bedroom. If we had stayed there, my family would have been smashed into the back wall by a stack of wood 4 to 5 feet high, traveling at over 160 mph."

Kauai residents who went through Iniki were forever changed. Like experiencing combat, they had been through a defining moment.

Ten years later, they unconsciously use Sept. 11, 1992, as a basic milestone in their lives. The actual date of an event such as a birth or a death or wedding or divorce is rarely mentioned in conversation. To Kauai residents, it either happened "before Iniki" or "after Iniki."

"It was a collective near-death experience," Yukimura says today. Only two people on the island died during the storm. Most of the injuries came after the storm, when people stepped on nails or fell off roofs they were repairing. But during the storm, most were afraid they would not survive.

Doug Trenton and his son, Ryan, and girlfriend, Debbie Porcella, stood in the spot where their porch once stood. A storm surge on Sept. 11, 1992 from Hurricane Iniki swept the Hoona Road home off its foundation. In the picture at top, Iniki was photographed from the space shuttle Endeavour two days after it rolled over Kauai.

State Rep. Mina Morita relates the story of one close friend in Kilauea whose house collapsed around her while the family hid under mattresses. The woman's 6-year-old son passed out in fear and had to be treated for shock.

Not far away, in Hanalei, Ray Chuan, who has a doctorate in physics and is one of the island's more strident environmentalists, stayed in his two-story house, determined to save his huge glass windows. He spent the storm opening and closing windows to equalize the pressure on the glass.

"I only lost one small window downstairs, and that was to flying debris. The house next door, which was all locked up, lost every window including the window frames," Chuan said. "But I wouldn't recommend trying what I did unless you have a very thorough understanding of aerodynamics."

Most people felt they were in such great danger that they were giddy and giggling when the storm passed. Most remember the sky after Iniki as being brilliantly blue.

"In the first week or two, everyone was euphoric," said Sandy Ritz, of Oahu, who wrote her dissertation for her doctorate in public health on the humor used by disaster victims, based on her interviews with people on Kauai.

"It's called the Honeymoon Period. They have survived and the losses haven't sunk in," Ritz said.

Lavish block parties began all over the island as residents, stores and restaurants gave away the food from their now useless freezers. Today, people all over Kauai recall huge neighborhood barbecues.

Lack of information was a major problem immediately after the hurricane. All the radio stations were knocked out, and KONG, the designated Civil Defense station, was off the air for two days until someone thought to string a wire between two trees as a temporary antenna, recalls KONG announcer Ron Wiley.

Gregg Gardiner, then the publisher of the now defunct weekly Kauai Times, talked the Navy's Pacific Missile Range into flying him to Oahu, where the Honolulu Star-Bulletin printed his newspaper. The papers were loaded onto the Navy plane and flown back to Kauai to be delivered.

Wayne Laranio recently re-painted the parking lot lines at Kapaa's Kojima Store, which was closed for months after Iniki struck. Laranio has been an employee there for 18 years.

Yukimura's press secretary was so traumatized that she refused to come to work. Cook, who was working in tourism promotion, said he frequently found himself being pushed out the door to brief network news teams. "It was pretty heady stuff, talking to the whole country on ABC News." He laughed while recalling it.

Several food stores tried to give away canned goods, but Kauai residents insisted on paying for them. Pam Parker, now marketing director for the Kauai Economic Development Board, recalls a sign on the open door at what was left of Ishihara's Market in Waimea reading, "Please take only what you need."

"The food was free, but people would stuff money in cubbyholes all over the store. Months after they reopened, store employees would find money slipped under the door at night," Parker said.

"I was with some Army Corps of Engineers guys who just arrived from Homestead (Fla.) where they had been watching mass looting and people shooting each other in the wreckage left by Hurricane Andrew. They were amazed at the aloha of Kauai's storm victims."

There was some looting, particularly of vacant vacation rentals.

But the looting incident most people recount involved two men who decided to steal the safe from the remains of the Big Save supermarket in Hanalei in broad daylight. They didn't have a getaway vehicle, so they put the safe on a furniture dolly. They didn't have masks, so they pulled their shirts over their heads.

The Hawaiian Church in Waimea was completely restored after being flattened by the hurricane.

They wheeled the safe out of the store into a crowd of neighbors who instantly recognized them. A news photographer shot a picture of them. When they tried to make a run for it, the safe fell off the dolly. They abandoned the safe and just kept running. Instead of being angry, everyone in the parking lot was laughing at them.

After the storm, Kauai residents were starved for entertainment and got together for large video parties powered by portable generators. Every video at the Kapaa Blockbuster was constantly rented. Blockbuster sent in almost 2,000 more videos. They, too, were all constantly rented.

In the last quarter of 1992, the Kapaa Blockbuster store had, by far, the best rental record of any store in the entire company.

The Honolulu Symphony came to Kauai to provide free concerts, as did many entertainers from all over Hawaii.

Kapaa's Coco Palms Resort was the only hotel on Kauai that has not re-opened. It was where "Blue Hawaii," starring Elvis Presley, was filmed.

"People kept their spirits up through Christmas and New Year's, but after that the problems started," Ritz said. "Living in squalor got kind of old."

"And six months later, people on Kauai were thoroughly exhausted and frustrated. We call it the Second Disaster. They were fed up with constantly having to deal with bureaucrats and researchers and insurance companies."

On the plus side, Ritz said, people on Kauai are very rural and more accustomed to "doing without."

"I don't think people on Oahu would have handled it as well as the people on Kauai," Ritz said. "There is a kind of patience on Kauai that some people who don't live there find annoying. But it goes a long way when they're faced with a crisis."

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