First-hand view
of catastrophe
gives new outlook

By Dean Sensui

"Are you nuts?" Guy sounded incredulous when I asked him if there were any flights headed to Kauai. "Isn't that where the hurricane's headed?" Guy Kaneshige is an Aloha Airline pilot, and I figured if anyone could give me a quick read on active flights it would be him.


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

By noon I found myself, along with "Storm team" reporters Helen Altonn and Gregg Kakesako, setting up a photolab and transmitter in a maintenance closet at Kauai Community College.

Meanwhile the winds steadily picked up. Without TV updates it was difficult to know exactly where the hurricane was or how fast it was approaching. All we had were radio reports and a steady buildup of gusts to indicate that Iniki wasn't about to turn away.

Then the power went out. Shortly afterward the cell phone system went down. That confirmed what we'd already suspected: Iniki had found its target and we were sitting dead center on the bull's eye.

Riding out a hurricane is damn scary. Once the monster's upon you, there's nothing to do but wait, hoping that it goes away soon. With Iniki it was a matter of hours, long enough to beat the crap out of everything in its path.

Few in the shelter thought the roof would hold and rainwater forced its way in through every crack, turning the floor into a mud-streaked mess.

A wire-reinforced window in an adjacent room shattered with a loud bang, followed by screams. Refugees from that room squeezed into the little remaining space of the dark hallway while the injured were tended to.

The next morning was incongruously bright and clear. The placid blue sky was a jarring contrast to the bleak, twisted limbs of trees stripped bare of leaves. Strewn everywhere was fractured lumber, tar paper and fallen utility poles. People quietly assessed the damage, sorting through scattered rubble that was once their homes.

The biggest problem everyone faced was getting water.

There was no power to run the pumps, and a barge with the necessary generators from the Army was held up on Oahu for unknown reasons. With no water, it was impossible to find working toilets and sanitation became a major problem.

Despite the chaos and widespread problems, one thing struck me most. Everyone behaved. There was no looting as was reported after Hurricane Andrew devastated Florida. Stores weren't gouging for needed supplies. A huge load of canned juice spilled out of a wrecked warehouse in Lihue and no one touched it. There wasn't much complaining. Residents did what they could to clean up and helped others to do the same. A family whose home was swept away even offered to pose for my camera where their porch once stood.

After a few days I was finally able to get a flight back to Honolulu. Seeing so much devastation and hearing so many depressing stories was starting to wear me down. But while I could go home to a normal life with running water and the convenience of uninterrupted electricity, the people of Kauai were still stuck with water wagons, gas lanterns and piles of rubble. It would be months before life for them got back to anything near normal.

On TV we see reports of massive storms wiping out communities all the time. The images of flattened towns and twisted buildings start to look the same. It's just more mundane disaster news. But those who have survived one know how bad it really is. They know what it's like to wonder if the roof will collapse and crush them. They fully appreciate how a storm surge can sweep their whole world out to sea. They've suffered through the frustration of shortages and endured the drawn-out process of rebuilding from scratch. Those who lived through Iniki on Kauai will never take a hurricane lightly. And neither will I.

Dean Sensui is a photographer with the Star-Bulletin.

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