On the second day after Hurricane Iniki, in the midst of our frenzied around-the-clock emergency response, the Emergency Operating Center received an interview request from a national TV news bureau. They wanted to interview the mayor — at 2 a.m. Hawaii time, so they could broadcast live at 7 a.m. on the East Coast. I knew I would still be up at that time so I agreed.
In the dead silence and darkness (no street lights) of that early morning, I drove to Club Jetty, up to then a popular local nightclub on the water’s edge at Nawiliwili. A large satellite dish stood on a boat anchored next to the club, now only a memory of good times in pre-hurricane days.
The inside of the club was wrecked with broken tables and chairs, glass and debris strewn across the floor. An upright bar stool stood on the floor in the midst of the wreckage. The man who greeted me sat me on the stool and hooked a mic to me. In a small monitor I could see my East Coast interviewers. In the darkness just behind the monitor a technician hovered over a TV camera fixed on a tripod.
The questions began: What was the damage? What is it like over there? What are the biggest problems you’re facing? Finally, the last question: What can viewers do if they want to help?
At that moment a picture flashed before my eyes: A large Matson container with old clothes and broken shoes tumbling out of it. I hesitated … and then said, “Send us your prayers. Please pray for us.”
After the interview, I drove back to the County Building on the dark, ravaged streets and went to sleep on the floor of my office. A couple of hours later, I woke up wanting to throw up. All the tension and exhaustion of the last 48 hours broke over me, funneled into a fear that I had said the “wrong thing” before millions of TV viewers. I had let the people of Kauai down!
Around 5 a.m. in despair, feeling alone, I reached for the phone and tried calling a close friend in Honolulu. Miraculously, even though I could not call KONG just down the street because our communication system had been destroyed, my friend’s phone rang and she answered. When I told her about the interview and what I had said, she counseled, “I don’t think your answer was bad, not at all.”
Years later, on our message phone at home, I listened to a man’s voice, a voice I didn’t recognize. He was visiting Kauai and said I didn’t have to call him back. He said he had seen that interview on TV after the hurricane and wanted to let me know that he was moved by what I had said. I never found out who he was, but it was one of the nicest phone calls I ever received.
JoAnn Yukimura served as Kauai mayor from 1988 to 1994. She resides in Lihue and is the current vice chair of the Kauai County Council.