The aloha spirit will see us through

Did you venture outside on Kauai Monday?

If you did, you saw beaches. You saw an ocean. You saw mountains. You saw people. You saw flourishing businesses. Perhaps you even saw a monk seal or green sea turtle. Maybe a surfer. Each day, you are blessed to see such beauty.

What you didn’t see, but what is credited with seeing this island through the aftermath of Hurricane Iniki 25 years ago, is the aloha spirit. If you talked to people who were there on Sept. 11, 1992, they’ll recount stories of the destruction. They’ll talk about the damage that was done, the homes and buildings destroyed, the roads blocked, the trees and poles knocked down. No power. No water. No ice.

Iniki had estimated maximum sustained winds of between 140 miles per hour with gusts as high as 175 miles per hour. It left behind a gloomy, grim situation.

Nearly 15,000 homes were destroyed or damaged. Thousands of poles were downed. Four weeks after Iniki, 80 percent of the island still didn’t have power, and a large portion of the island was without telephone service.

The mountains turned brown, stripped of vegetation. Trees were broken or uprooted all around the island. The ocean was littered with debris.

Statewide, the monetary value of the damage was close to $3 billion, with the majority of losses on Kauai.

More than 100 people were injured because of Iniki, some of them during cleanup efforts. Six people died in connection with the storm.

But despite those losses, there was always hope. There was strength and fortitude, determination and resolve. There was all of that if you talk to those who were there. The island, they said, rallied together and helped each other. They did what they could to pull through what was likely the biggest challenge of their lives.

The aloha spirit persevered.

And it still perseveres today. Oh, you might not know it sometimes, what with all the anger that is expressed at times over tourism, traffic, the rising cost of real estate. You might not know it with the lack of basic courtesy and respect in some circles. You might not know it when you see someone who seems to be glaring at you or ignores you or a driver cuts you off. But it is there. And considering all the challenges facing Kauai, we need it just as much today.

Councilman Derek Kawakami, who was just a high school student when Iniki hit and saw how people cooperated at Big Save, the family store, said it well:

“We can hope that the aloha that was expressed during that last hurricane still resonates today, because that’s what got us through. What really got us through that thing was that aloha spirit.”

The aloha spirit has nothing to do with money, big cars, nice homes and a great job. It isn’t something you can see when you walk out the front door each day. It isn’t something you can buy. What it is is something you can feel in your heart. It is something you can share. And you do that, as our friend Jim Jung said so well, by showing respect and having compassion. It’s so easy to criticize. It’s so easy to be angry. It’s so easy to be negative and point out what you think is wrong with others.

Aloha saw Kauai through Iniki 25 years ago. Ask the people who were there. They’re the ones who can best explain it.

It’s up to us, the ones here today, if aloha will continue to see Kauai through the challenges of tomorrow.

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