Mieko Lowe: ‘Kauai was gone’

WAILUA HOMESTEADS — If Mieko Lowe could offer one piece of hurricane preparedness advice, it’d be to keep your laundry basket empty and your floors clean.

“We had no electricity for 50 days and no phone for 45 days,” she said, remembering that day in 1992 when Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai. “We had to do all the laundry by hand, and the cleaning.”

She had thought of some of the more typical preparedness strategies when the hurricane approached — things like extra food and water.

But she and her husband John didn’t prepare for some of “the little things,” like how to launder the clothes and linens of 11 people after four days without water.

The Lowes moved to Kauai in 1989 after John retired from his job as an entomologist with the Food and Agriculture Organization, a career that took the couple around the world.

They bought property in Wailua Homesteads and had remodeled the A-frame house by Sept. 11, 1992.

It was the 10 o’clock news that tipped the Lowes off to the incoming hurricane, and they immediately warned two couples staying in their vacation rentals.

“We told them they needed to leave the island and they said ‘no,’ they wanted to witness,” Mieko said.

So the vacationers barricaded themselves inside the cottages on the property, and the Lowes retreated to an interior hallway inside their house.

“We shut all the doors and the windows, and we got ready,” Mieko said. “When it came you felt this pressure and there was wind whooshing.”

A metal roof collided with theirs and the winds ripped out about a dozen trees, including a mango and four or five cedar trees.

By the time it was over, their property was ransacked. A 2-by-4 was drilled straight into one wall, flying debris damaged the car in the carport, and fallen trees were everywhere.

“It stopped and we opened the bedroom door and our porch was gone,” Mieko said.

Having grown up in Japan, Mieko was expecting something akin to the seasonal typhoon conditions of her childhood memories. But it wasn’t the same.

“It was intense,” she said.

The next few months were solely focused on rebuilding the island, and Mieko remembers all of Kauai was littered with blue tarps as people put things back in order.

Businesses and residents emptied their freezers within the first few days, cooking what they could and sharing with anyone and everyone who wanted to partake.

“Bubba’s Burgers, they gave away hamburgers for free,” Mieko said.

Their home became a rallying point for neighbors, and the two couples who stayed to witness the hurricane lent a hand with the cleanup, helping make sure everyone had food, water and a safe place to sleep.

“My husband would go into town and get ice from the Kapaa armory once every day so he could keep his food and his beer cold,” Mieko said. “We had gas, so we could cook, and I boiled water for my neighbors for showers.”

After living in places like India and Nigeria, with restrictions on water use or no running water at all, Mieko said living with the post-hurricane inconveniences was bearable, but not comfortable.

A year later, Mieko said Kauai was just starting to get back on her feet.

“Kauai was lost from the map,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of the buildings got damaged. Kauai’s scenery was gone. We lost the green, and Kauai was gone for a year.”

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