Hurricane Iniki memories trigger Kaua‘i reunions

NAWILIWILI — Memories created 19 years ago are still fresh in the minds of Darrell and Linda Ezzell of California.

“She wrote a book (which has not been published),” said Mel Rapozo, hosting the California couple with his family. “Even I’m in that book dancing the hula, although I can’t remember doing that.”

The Ezzells were one of 2,500 people evacuated from Kaua‘i’s South Shore to Kaua‘i Community College when it was evident Hurricane Iniki would impact Kaua‘i on Sept. 11, 1992.

Since that time, the Ezzells have returned to Kaua‘i at least four times.

But unlike other return trips, the Ezzells celebrated the good friends and relationships established while riding out the hurricane at KCC, one of the evacuation sites established for the hurricane — kind of like a hurricane reunion.

“It’s amazing the amount of good relationships and friendships that were created in those three days,” Darrell said, recollecting their stay at KCC where they met Mel Rapozo, who was the site manager for that evacuation site. “We’ve kept in touch with several of the people we would have never met if it were not for the hurricane, and we’ve come back at least four times as kind of a reunion. There’re no plans. It just happens. We’ve also stayed at the other islands, but Kaua‘i is our favorite.”

Since 1992, some of those acquaintances have passed on, but their memories live on with those people who visit Kaua‘i to celebrate their kinship born out of the hurricane.

Another couple, Dennis and Patti Dunham of Washington state had just left Kaua‘i, Friday afternoon after spending time with the Ezzells, Mel said.

Nicole, Mel and Patsy Rapozo’s daughter, was not even born when the hurricane hit. “But these people remember her birthday and Christmas,” Patsy said.

Linda said when it was evident the hurricane was going to hit the island, they were evacuated from the Lawai Beach Resort to KCC where they were greeted by about 2,500 other people who also took advantage of the storm evacuation center.

“People were sleeping in chairs, everywhere,” Linda said.

She noted that despite the crowded conditions and the sense of impending danger, people developed a kinship with each other, the group enjoying a sense of ‘ohana.

“There even were people who sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone who had to celebrate in an evacuation center. They were singing in the bathroom.”

Hurricane Iniki was the third-most damaging hurricane in U.S. history and the most destructive to hit the Hawaiian Islands this century, according to George Pararas-Carayannis on his website.

Damage was extensive throughout the island. Damage from the ocean was heaviest along the South Shore and affected shoreline hotels and condominiums around Po‘ipu, states the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.

According to Red Cross figures, Hurricane Iniki left 14,350 damaged or destroyed homes on Kaua‘i, the number of totally destroyed settling at 1,421. Sixty-three homes were destroyed by wave action or storm surge on the South Shore with the number of homes suffering major damage came in at 5,152 and 7,178 receiving minor damage, the NOAA website states.

“We spent three days — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — at the college,” Darrell said. “On the day we found out we could leave, we left our wives at the Lihu‘e Airport and scrambled back to the college to get our suitcases. We returned our cars to Kaua‘i High School where they told us to just leave the keys on the seats.”

During those three days, Mel remembers the plight of running out of food.

“But luckily, when I went to Star Market to see what we could get, Masa Arita, the store manager, was there and he told us to just take what we needed to feed the people,” Mel said. “We made sandwiches, but I was afraid of what would happen with 2,500 hungry people.”

Linda said it was not that bad because the residents who were at the evacuation center were bringing in food they had at their homes which would otherwise go bad because there was no electricity.

Friday was unlike the Friday of 1992 as clear skies and calm seas greeted the group at Duke’s Restaurant where the Rapozo family hosted Darrell and Linda. The afternoon live music was a sharp contrast from the civil defense sirens and warnings which blared across the radio waves 19 years ago.

“We’ve made some great friends because of the hurricane,” Linda said. “That is reason enough to celebrate. We’ll keep coming back.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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