20 years later, Kauai residents remember Iniki - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

20 years later, Kauai residents remember Iniki

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LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Twenty years ago, Hurricane Iniki roared across our islands. The eye of the storm passed directly over Kauai, causing catastrophic damage.

JoAnn Yukimura, who was Kauai Mayor at the time, remembers working to get the island ready.

"We opened the EOC at midnight, and from then on it was 'how do we get people prepared and off the streets, in safe places and get set for the storm,'" said Yukimura. "We could tell within the first hour it was going to be bad."

When the center of Iniki came onshore, sustained winds were blowing at 140 miles per hour, with gusts up to 175 mph and even stronger in mountain passes.

Yukimura says some of the anemometers, or devices used to measure wind velocity, broke off at about 200 mph up in the mountains.

On Kauai's North Shore, the strong winds rocked the Princeville Hotel, which is now known as the St. Regis Princeville Resort. It was a designated shelter, and about 1,200 people took refuge from the hurricane there. Many were guests, but a majority of them were from the community.

Coppin Colburn, now the Director of Security at the hotel, remembers well what he was doing.

"Running, running all over the place, making sure everything was running smoothly," said Colburn. "Because there was such a large volume of people coming in and they were in the meeting rooms on the 10th floor, we had meeting rooms on the 8th floor and we had corridors that were filled, corridors that people had never seen before that we were putting people in to keep them safe."

Meanwhile, 30-foot waves and a 6-foot storm surge pounded the island's south shore, destroying more than 60 beachfront homes and seriously damaging all of the coastal hotels and condos.

Popular Poipu restaurant Brennecke's Beach Broiler survived, but took a beating. Brennecke's manager Hoku Gordines says he remembers what he found when he got to the restaurant the morning after the storm hit.

"Downstairs, the restaurant was flooded all the way up to the ceiling," said Gordines. "That next day when we came down to clean up, we had to unpack all the sand and seaweed and large rocks that had stuffed themselves all the way to the back coolers and everything."

More than 5,000 utility poles were downed across the island, and the power company, called Kauai Electric back then, had even more challenges closer to home.

Ed Nakaya, now working for Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, says even though their building was damaged, they still made it work.

"Actually it was pretty good. Yeah, there were sections of roof that had lost their tile, but the sections where we were occupying were in pretty good shape and housed us pretty well," said Nakaya. "We were able to establish our communications and control activities pretty nicely there."

The storm finally passed late that afternoon, into the early evening. Some ventured out to check on neighbors and loved ones, but the sun was setting and there was no electricity.

John Greco, co-owner of Bubba's Burgers, said it was too late and too dangerous to take a look around.

"It was a long night sitting there wondering what happened to the rest of the island, and if everybody was okay, if we were the lucky ones or the unfortunate ones. Pretty terrifying."

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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