25 years ago, a mad scramble and then Iniki's 'extreme destruction'
KAUAI, (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's been 25 years since Hurricane Iniki slammed into Kauai, but residents say they remember it like it was yesterday.
At 8 a.m. on September 11, 1992, forecasters say Iniki reached it peak intensity — and was headed straight for Kauai.
The warning sirens started blaring early that morning and the hours before impact were chaotic.
Long lines of cars could be seen at gas stations. Grocery stores were packed with people scrambling to prepare for the storm, which had made a sudden and unexpected turn toward the islands. Items like candles, batteries, and flashlights quickly sold out. Many made sure to fill up their propane gas tanks.
While the rest of the island prepared for Iniki's arrival, Theresa De Costa Koki was nervously preparing for the arrival of her son.
"As I was getting to the hospital to deliver, all the sirens started going off. It was very scary," De Costa Koki said. "How is the hospital going to do this if we don't have electricity or running water and all of these things?"
Meanwhile, across Kauai, residents boarded up their windows and thousands of visitors were at Lihue Airport hoping to get off the island.
"There was gridlock at the airport as visitors took their rental cars back," said Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who was mayor at the time.
"People just dropped their cars wherever and left. Some people left the keys in their pocket," said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau.
Once the airlines stopped service, many people were shuttled to nearby shelters, including the former Westin Kauai.
"Everybody just took the elevators and just slept in the floors. We were able to put 1,800 guests in the ballroom," said Dickie Chang, the Westin's former head of guest services.
Chang remembers the fear in the hotel's ballroom as Iniki slammed into Kauai.
"It was just shaking like nobody else's business, like it was ready to explode. An engineer said you better pop the doors open before this whole place explodes," he said.
The Central Pacific Hurricane Center says Iniki brought 140 mph winds, with gusts as high as 175 miles per hour, that ripped off roofs, uprooted trees, and knocked out all power and telephone service islandwide.
Heavy rain, waves up to 30 feet, and intense storm surge caused major coastal flooding, especially on the south shore.
Many people thought the storm was over when the eye of the hurricane began to cross Kauai around 3:30 p.m.
"From a hundred something mile an hour winds to no air and no wind. It was so still and so muggy," said Kekaha resident Ray "Mac" Pigott.
When the storm was over, six people were dead — four on Kauai — and many left homeless. Some 14,350 homes were damaged or destroyed.
"There was extreme widespread destruction. It looked in some areas almost like a military bombardment had taken place," said Kauai Emergency Management Administrator Elton Ushio.
Kauai mayor Bernard Carvalho said Iniki changed everyone's lives on Kauai.
"We've endured a lot. We've had storms, we've had situations like this, but this was Iniki," he said. "And it just devastated our island."
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Next in this series: It's been 25 years since Iniki, but some scars from the storm remain.
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