Destruction, recovery and love: A silver lining amid chaos of Hurricane Iniki

Caught by surprise 30 years ago, Hawaii was hit by the most destructive hurricane in recorded history on September 11, 1992.
Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 8:12 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 9, 2022 at 8:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - 30 years ago, Hawaii was hit by the most destructive hurricane in recorded history.

Iniki caught a lot of people by surprise on Sept. 11, 1992.

The Category 4 storm was supposed to pass south of Kauai, but made a hard turn to the north.

Memories from Hurricane Iniki are not only vivid for the residents who lived through it, but also those who provided relief after the disaster.

No one was really ready for Hurricane Iniki but the Salvation Army was there to serve when the storm hit.

We learn from a couple who experienced the destruction and recovery — and also found love.

In 1992, the South Side of Kauai was ground zero.


Captain Phil Lum was in charge of the salvation army’s unit in Koloa. He staffed the Koloa Community Center shelter, which was mostly full of tourists, and watched as Iniki tore up the neighborhood.

“You could hear some tree branches breaking,” Lum recalled. “And then there’s a huge utility pole just outside of that, and when that thing just snapped in half... that was a horrendous sound.”

Lum said an old house just across the street had its roof rip off with the strong winds. The only thing left standing was a concrete pad and a refrigerator.

“It was just a very scary experience.”

Lum also experienced the eerie quiet as the eye of the storm passed over.

“And every kind of everyone kind of breathed a sigh of relief, number one that we’re still alive, and the building was still intact,” said Lum. “And then it slowly started picking up again. And the winds came in the reverse direction. What had already loosened before, it just kind of blew away completely.”

The Salvation Army relief efforts began immediately — even more quickly thanks to the help of movie director Steven Spielberg who was on Kauai at the time, filming the original Jurassic Park movie.

At the time, none of the commercial planes were flying and Spielberg’s film crew allowed the Salvation Army Disaster Team to use their plane.

When commercial flights resumed, Debbie Navarro was among the thousands who came to Kauai to help, flying to Lihue to be with her parents who were also Salvation Army officers.

Navarro recalled the aftermath of the hurricane.

“A little tent to where long lines of people were in line to make sure they were able to get water and ice and rice and whatever food that was provided canned foods, I remember that,” Navarro recalled. “What a sight it was.”

During the intense relief efforts, Debbie and Phil met and fell in love.

“Both have the calling to serve, he was already serving, but I was in my journey of becoming an officer. So that was it,” Navarro said.

“The hurricane kind of blew us together,” said Lum. “And so we just felt very blessed that there’s a silver lining to everything.”

The Lums have been married for 25 years and have two grown children.

9-11 Lum Wedding Portrait
9-11 Lum Wedding Portrait(Courtesy: Phil Lum)