26 years ago, Hurricane Iniki devastated Kauai

26 years ago, Hurricane Iniki devastated Kauai
Iniki's winds ripped off roofs and damaged 14,350 homes.

LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - At 8 a.m. on Sept. 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki reached its 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 and 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.

Across Kauai, residents boarded up their windows and thousands of visitors were at Lihue Airport hoping to get off the island. 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.

Even all these years later, Iniki remains the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in modern history.

It's also the costliest, with about $2 billion in damages on Kauai alone.

County leaders say it took about a decade for the island to completely recover.

The morning after Iniki slammed into Kauai, former Mayor JoAnn Yukimura says she surveyed the islandwide destruction from a helicopter.

"You could just see all the roofs torn off. The Na Pali coast looked like it had aged 1,000 years because it was just brown. None of the greens and blues you normally see," said Yukimura.

The massive Category 4 storm damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the island's homes and buildings.

It knocked down thousands of utility poles, cutting off power. It took the utility more than two months to restore the grid to all neighborhoods, but some families still spent the holidays in the dark.

Last year, for the 25th anniversary of Iniki, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho told Hawaii News Now that the hurricane 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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