Happy Camper recalls Iniki aftermath

An assignment to cover the 23rd anniversary of the Kauai Independent Food Bank triggered memories of Hurricane Iniki which devastated the island on Sept. 11, 1992.

In its aftermath, personnel from Pay N Save, currently Housemart Ace Hardware, lined Rice Street with handfuls of milk cartons. With no electricity to power the refrigerators, there was the need to get rid of perishables. The islandwide blackout forced the closure of stores and gas stations, creating lines outside gas pumps as residents sought to refuel their cars and equipment used to clean up damage from the wind and rain.

Electricity was out for weeks due to the widespread damage to utility poles, electrical meters and buildings. In Kalaheo, at the junction of Kaumualii Highway and Papalina Road, poles were sheared off, creating a dangling mess of wires and poles hanging dangerously close to the roadway.

This was just the obvious danger, but scores of nails and screws also lay in wait for car tires, camouflaged by the debris that included leaves, tree branches and house parts. Tire Warehouse became the motorists’ best friend, its mobile truck being kept constantly busy as tires were victimized by the debris.

“Come,” the attendant at Island Shell said. “I’ll top you off. There’s no electricity so I can hand pump what you need before the lines form.”

Those words are unforgettable. A form of gas rationing had developed, based on the last digit of a car’s license plate. Jobs needed to be planned out based on gas availability and needs.

The electrical blackout and shortages of goods, including food, gasoline and other essentials, created havoc. At the Lihue Airport, scores of visitors sought escape from the devastated paradise. Instead of multiple check-in counters, there was just one set up in the Hawaiian Airlines baggage claim area, and the line of people needing to get off of Kauai lined the length of the airport.

Lines also formed at The Garden Island newspaper. The deadline was moved from the normal 8 p.m. to before lunch, as the packet containing materials for the newspaper had to be on the plane by 1 p.m. to Honolulu where Rita De Silva, the editor when Iniki struck, waited at the Beach Press, a sister publication, to finalize the paper. After being printed on Oahu, the paper was returned the following day where publisher Edith Tanimoto manned a table in the parking lot for people anxious to read about the latest developments in recovery.

Meals Ready to Eat became the norm as special runs to the central control center, the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, kept the counters filled for employees and customers.

Everything needed to be done during the day during the weeks-long blackout period. A 55-gallon drum of water sat in one corner of TGI’s parking lot, providing some of the material essential to developing film in the field.

Kauai Interscholastic Federation sporting games were also moved to daylight hours, juggling football and volleyball on arenas crippled by the lack of electricity and further aggravated by damage to facilities. Volleyball games continued at the Kauai High School gym which had one part of its roof taken off by Iniki’s winds. In that scene, the Contractors Association of Kauai was born with Bill Dahle, the KUAI radio news director, emcee-ing the first CAK Expo so local Kauai contractors and building industry organizations came together to offer residents a one-stop shop of resources to rebuild.

But above the destruction, aloha reigned as mail delivery workers managed to find recipients of care packages containing Spam and saimin, despite mailboxes being blown away. Honolulu food industry people coordinated a free Thanksgiving feed for more than 10,000 people at the Kukui Grove Park and pavilion, where Costco and its parking lot are now located, and the biggest aloha was shown by electrical workers who juggled meters to enable residential blocks to have electricity turned back on.

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