FROM THE ARCHIVES: Hurricane Iniki: Kauai's Road to Recovery

Hurricane Iniki: Kauai's road to recovery
Published: Sep. 11, 2012 at 3:09 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 8, 2017 at 4:22 PM HST
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Koloa Tree Tunnel - 1992
Koloa Tree Tunnel - 1992
JoAnn Yukimura
JoAnn Yukimura
Hoku Gordines
Hoku Gordines
Sue Kanoho
Sue Kanoho

LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - For someone visiting Kauai for the first time, it would be difficult to tell that almost the entire island was a wreck 20 years ago. The vegetation has regrown, tourism has rebounded, and Kauai buildings -- with just a few exceptions -- have been rebuilt and revitalized.

Former Kauai Mayor JoAnn Yukimura remembers what the island looked like from the air the morning after Iniki.

"When we did the tour of the islands, the helicopter tour, we did it all around, starting Kapaa north and then came back west and south. But I couldn't even recognize the coastline when I saw the south shore. And then I finally saw the mill, the Koloa Mill, and I got some bearings."

Just like Yukimura, the people of Kauai quickly got their bearings, and then got to work. Together.

Manager of Brennecke's Beach Broiler, Hoku Gordines remembers the silver lining in the dark clouds that day.

"And even though it was hard overcoming the economic trouble and the devastation, the large pruning of the island, I like to call it, it brought people closer together."

That was a theme we heard over and over again while talking to Kauai people. Yes, the government agencies were there, the insurance companies, churches and non-profits, and even the National Guard doing back-breaking work. But it was the spirit of Kauai's people that fueled the recovery.

Sue Kanoho, head of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, remembered that feeling.

"The community that this island is came together. The people were just incredible. I remember the National Guard, they were amazed, they said people were inviting them in, you know they were there to help but then people were trying to extend their aloha to them."

While the rubble was being cleared and roofs replaced, Yukimura recalled Kauai's flora and fauna quickly bounced back.

"You know these trees, almost it seemed like within a week the shoots were coming out, this refusal to die, they were bare, they were leafless, and then the shoots that said I'm going to live."

Yukimura says it took about a decade for Kauai's economy to recover, which would mean there were about 5 good years until the national economy faltered in 2007. Today though, things are once again looking up, as tourism, which is Kauai's primary industry, is growing.

Kanoho says the island has recently reached a new tourism milestone.

"The other thing that is really huge for us is the most direct flights we have ever had in the history of the island, so that's awesome, I mean when you have direct flights like that people are staying longer they are spending more on your island, so we are really excited about that. Can you say that again? So the most direct flights we've ever had in the history of the island. Ever!"

There is one Kauai icon that is still frozen in time from Hurricane Iniki 20 years ago, and that's the once beautiful Coco Palms. Everybody we talked to on the island wants the place to be somehow rebuilt or revitalized and right now we can tell you, there's hope.

The Garden Isle newspaper reports that Hawaii developer Patrick Duddy is in talks with investors and says Duddy hopes to have something happen by the end of the year.

It may have taken 20 years, but Kauai is back.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.