Many new residents haven’t experienced the fury of a hurricane on Kaua‘i

By a show of hands, how many Kaua‘i residents and visitors have been through a hurricane?

Oh, that’s not that many.

In fact, state and federal population estimates show that there are nearly 6,000 more Kaua‘i residents today, or roughly 10 percent of the resident population, than there were when Hurricane ‘Iniki came calling in September 1992.

Add nearly 18,000 to 20,000 visitors present on the island on any given day, virtually none with experience dealing with a hurricane and its aftermath, and the picture coming into focus is that if a hurricane were to strike the island, chances are that thousands of people would be woefully unprepared.

While residents who have lived through one or two hurricanes can probably tell you exactly how many multi-gallon jugs of water and cans of Spam they have stored somewhere for emergencies, visitors when packing for paradise don’t worry about extra batteries for radios and flashlights.

According to one visitor-industry leader, they don’t need to.

“I think, in general, if you’re traveling, you don’t need to worry about being prepared for disasters,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau.

Still, those calling the toll-free Kaua‘i information line are being informed of the lurking storm, and Kanoho and other KVB officials are working closely with accommodation security personnel to keep guests informed, she said.

“I’m feeling that we’re better prepared this time than we were last time around,” when ‘Iniki changed course, intensified and sped up on its way directly over the island 11 years ago.

There is a “call-down list” to keep representatives of various properties informed on storm status, and standard warnings to visitors about avoiding coastal areas, and taking radios with them when they’re in the wilderness, she added.

“Everyone’s briefed, updated,” she said.

While many residents and visitors with advance warning will find it possible to leave the island before another hurricane hits, the fact remains that hurricane preparedness is something all residents and visitors should consider when on the island from the beginning of June to the end of November.

That is hurricane season in the Pacific, and so far this year the island is safely past the dreaded “I” storm in the alphabetized progression of naming storms (the last two hurricanes to hit Kaua‘i were ‘Iwa, in 1982, and ‘Iniki in 1992), and hasn’t been visited by even a tropical depression halfway through the hurricane season.

The end of August, or beginning of September, marks the halfway point in the Pacific hurricane season. There have been nine named storms before Hurricane Jimena formed earlier this week off the Mexico coast, and none of them even added surfable waves or additional rain to Kaua‘i’s weather.

But Kaua‘i’s last two hurricanes came late in the season, and Jimena is lurking southeast of the state.

So, it’s time for a little preparedness update.

First of all, general disaster preparedness information begins on page 33 of the local phone book. On those pages, it is recommended that families have an action plan in case of any emergency, decide where all will meet if separated, remain calm, and tune to the radio or television for details.

It should be noted here that the county Civil Defense Agency telephone number in the current telephone book is incorrect. The correct number is 241-1800.

A basic survival kit includes at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food, two quarts of water per person per day, cooler, extra cash, batteries for flashlights and portable radios, sleeping gear, fuel for stoves and lanterns, first-aid kit, water purification kit, and other items.

Extra supplies of prescription medications, quiet games for children (cards, board games, books, favorite toys), hygiene items (soap, toothbrushes, towels, deodorant), extra clothing, food for pets, matches and candles, important papers including driver’s licenses, insurance policies and property inventories, and full tanks of gas in the family vehicles are all advised.

For those who enjoy camping, it is a good idea to think along the lines of having everything you would need to survive outside your home for a few days to several days, just as you would prepare for a long-weekend camping trip to a remote area.

While some disaster-preparedness experts including representatives of the National Weather Service have in the past applauded the island’s residents for being better prepared for hurricanes and other natural disasters from having lived through two of them, the fact again remains that a significant portion of the population (including visitors) hasn’t had that experience.

Hurricanes bring with them high winds, heavy rain, flooding and damaging surf. The aftermaths are marked with damaged homes, and the potential for long periods of time without running water, electricity or telephone service.

Associate Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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