Island united by spirit of aloha

It was the hurricane that wasn’t supposed to happen.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 1992, the word was reassuring: Hurricane Iniki , which had been heading straight for Hawaii, was projected to continue moving west and remain well south of the state.

Forecasters were optimistic that Kauai would be spared.

Heartened by such good news, the island continued hurricane preparations, gathering tarps, batteries, flashlights, nailing plywood boards over vulnerable plate glass windows.

A small group of employees and their families decided to wait out the storm in the safety of the hollow tile and concrete building that housed The Garden Island newspaper. Even if Iniki was not going to hit, hurricane-force winds would still be a danger we all knew.

But to our horror, the morning reports were replaced by a frightening update: Responding to a combination of weather conditions, including an upper cold trough and low pressure system, Iniki made an unprecedented northward turn and began making a beeline for Kauai and its people.

And thus began the blur of painful whirlwind memories Hurricane Iniki left for all of us in its aftermath.

There are as many Iniki stories as there were people on the island on Sept. 11, 1992. For weeks, months and even years, Iniki was all people talked about whenever they gathered.

Over the past 20 years, I have examined my Iniki memories one by one. They always amaze me.

I am amazed by the resourcefulness, the energy and the determination Kauai’s people proved they possessed in those weeks after Iniki hit.

I am amazed by the sense of togetherness that swept the island: Neighbor helped neighbor; families grew closer; strangers became fast friends.

I am amazed at the generosity and kindness of people from across the state, country and world who shared what they had with those of us who had little or nothing.

And I am amazed and proud of the spirit of aloha that Kauai showered on the military, insurance adjusters, FEMA people and government agencies. All who came to help were embraced and welcomed by a grateful community.

Twenty years later, these memories still bring tears to my eyes.

I am writing these reflections on this devastating hurricane so that we will never forget our finest moment; that we will always remember to love strangers, neighbors, family members and friends; never forget how it felt to be in such dire need or how many people took our hands when we reached out for help.

Yes, Hurricane Iniki changed our lives forever. But we became a community of stronger, more compassionate people guided always by hearts filled with aloha.

I am proud of my island and the people who live here. May we never forget the lessons a hurricane named Iniki taught us all.

Aloha with love.

•••

Rita De Silva is the former managing editor of The Garden Island. She retired in 2008 and lives in Kapaa with her ohana.

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