20 Years on from Hurricane Iniki

This week marked the 20th anniversary of the day Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai and caused massive destruction across the island.

We knew of Iniki before we moved here, and we viewed several clips on YouTube showing the power of the hurricane, both during and after, but we learned much more this week from a local TV station, KGMB, which replayed a news broadcast from that day in 1992 that brings home the trauma that the islanders suffered, especially due to the lack of warning, something that has evidently been improved upon in recent years with advances in technology.

I was fascinated to see the path that Iniki took (and why), since it at first appeared to be skirting the Hawaiian islands relatively harmlessly to the south, as it grew in intensity from a tropical storm, but then took a disastrous turn north.

Another KGMB news segment this week recalled the aftermath of that day, but focused on the tremendous community spirit at the time, and how well the island has recovered since.

We were aware of the risk of hurricanes when we bought our home here. The hurricane season typically runs from June to November (though these days there doesn’t seem to be anything typical about the weather anywhere in the world), and the community is frequently encouraged to be prepared – know of evacuation routes, maintain food and water reserves, etc. – but it’s not something that overshadows our day-to-day lives. It’s not much different from living in an earthquake zone, as we did in California where we were perched almost on top of the San Andreas faultline. We’ve simply traded one of Mother Nature’s risks for another.

However, it’s comforting to know that our current home was locally dubbed ‘The Shelter’ when it was built, immediately after Iniki swept through. [Incidentally, while there are several evacuation centers, such as school halls, provided for visitors, there simply isn’t enough room for everyone, so, in the event of a hurricane, residents are requested to shelter-in-place! Bummer, that!]

The previous property on this lot was completely destroyed, its roof sheared off and structure so badly damaged and buckled that it was an insurance write-off, so the lot was cleared.

Not surprisingly, the owners had no wish to suffer a repeat performance, and employed an experienced architect and builder, in an attempt to ensure that their replacement home could withstand a similar onslaught.

The house is a single-storey dwelling built into a sloping lot, so that its roofline is way below that of the surrounding houses, with the back supported on 16″ square solid concrete pillars. The roof is tied down with metal hurricane clips at every rafter (as opposed to every 3 or 4 in many houses). In brief, just about everything in this house is over-spec’d as far as hurricane-proofing is concerned.

It’s also wired for a generator. Just a flick of a switch can divert us from the grid to a generator tucked in the over-large crawl space under the back of the house; a crawl space, incidentally, that’s deep enough and tall enough to provide shelter for us, and probably several neighbors too, with plenty of room to store food and water reserves. [The photo shows merely a third of it!]

While I’m not freaked out by the possibility of a hurricane, it’s very reassuring to know that if ever the island-wide alert is issued to shelter-in-place, we have as a good a chance as any, and better than many, of still having a roof over our heads when the storm subsides.

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