Kauai leaders reflect on destruction, recovery from Hurricane Iniki 30 years later

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Thirty years later, two of Kauai’s leaders are looking back at their experiences during Hurricane Iniki.

Both share similar fears: They were worried Kauai would never be the same.

JoAnn Yukimura was the mayor of Kauai County when Hurricane Iniki struck the island.

The storm made landfall on Kauai as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 145 miles per hour and gusts of 225.

“It was the suffering of our people on Kauai and the devastation that took away everything we knew and needed,” said Yukimura.

The former mayor said right after the storm hit, there was no electricity or water.

“One of my nightmares was that people would die of dehydration, especially the elderly,” said Yukimura. “In the first hours after the hurricane, it felt like a third-world country.”

“I mean, we had to do it with messages, you know, hand carried or carried by bike.”

Current Mayor Derek Kawakami said he remembers the storm like it was yesterday.

Kawakami was 15 years old and working at his family’s store the morning of the storm.

“I can remember just the sound of that hurricane, I can remember our windows, just breathing and flexing,” said Kawakami. “Our neighbor’s roof right behind us, which was a brand new house, had beautiful blue tiles just being peeled away by the wind like it was nothing.”

Hurricane Iniki caused six deaths and more than $3 billion in damage.

Kawakami said seeing the aftermath scared him the most, but he recalled Yukimura active in the community during recovery efforts.

“I think I have a deeper appreciation of how challenging it can be,” said Kawakami. “She’s always been at the forefront, and deeply engaged in the community and I just have to say that she did the best that she could.”

“When we initially thought we lost everything, and some people did lose everything, we realized we had a lot,” said Yukimura. “We had our lives, we had our loved ones, we had our community of friends and neighbors, and we had the will and initiative to survive.”

Kawakami says Hurricane Iniki taught him no matter how young or old you are, when a community is going through tough times, it’s important for government officials to continue to be a beacon of hope.

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