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Iniki: 20 Years After the Storm

September 11, 2012

By Rosemarie Bernardo, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser


Since Hurricane Iniki barrelled over Kauai 20 years ago Tuesday, the county`s communication system has vastly improved, but the island still has too few shelters able to withstand gale-force winds, emergency planners say.

On Sept. 11, 1992, the category 4 storm hit the island straight on, tearing off roofs and flattening palm trees. Six people died in the disaster, which caused an estimated $1.8 billion in damage on Kauai and Oahu.

Kauai`s iconic Coco Palms Resort, which appeared in Elvis Presley`s "Blue Hawaii," never recovered and remains shuttered today.

Since then many structures on Kauai have been reinforced to meet hurricane standards.

And Kauai County continues to make improvements in preparedness following lessons learned from Iniki.

Before the storm, for instance, city and state emergency responders were on different radio frequencies.

"People from different jurisdictions, we would have to give them one of our radios to talk to us," said Mark Marshall, Kauai Civil Defense administrator.

Now the county`s radio system allows seamless communication between city and state responders on one common channel.

Kauai is also equipped with eight mobile radio systems that can run on batteries or a generator should interruptions occur with the radio towers.

"We can heal our system through our eight deployable units," Marshall said.

The county also has a software system to inform isle residents of any emergencies via land line, email or text message to cellphones. Approximately 27,000 residents and 500 businesses are in the system.

Notices are also released via the Internet and social media.

With technology advancements and upgrades, Kauai`s communication system has improved by perhaps 300 percent since Iniki, said Civil Defense Manager Ted Daligdig.

And a backup system is in the works for the county`s emergency operation center, built in 2002.

By the end of the year, an alternate emergency operations center and dispatch center are expected to be ready in a recently renovated section of the Kauai Fire Department`s Piikoi Building in Lihue.

Marshall said the alternate site -- a much smaller version of the main emergency operation center in the Police Department -- will be on hand should equipment fail at the main site in a storm.

The cost for construction and equipment of the alternate operations center is estimated at $800,000.

During Iniki, nails from damaged houses flew onto roadways, flattening tires.

Now nails can be picked up by street sweepers with special magnets.

Despite such improvements, however, officials are still concerned with the lack of shelters for Kauai`s 67,500 residents and 20,000 average daily visitors.

"It`s still an issue," said Marshall.

All told, there are 19,300 structures on Kauai that are certified by the American Red Cross to withstand gale-force winds. But that`s not enough, officials say.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said the county is looking into placing trailer-size containers on the North Shore equipped with cots, blankets and emergency provisions.

The containers will be on hand to assist residents and tourists cut off if the Hanalei Bridge becomes impassable. That happened during a rainstorm and flooding in March.

On the west side of the island, plans are in place to provide the public with shelter, restroom facilities and parking spaces along Kokee Road in the event of a hurricane.

Marshall said Kauai is undoubtedly better prepared thanks to Iniki and Hurricane Iwa a decade earlier.

Fire Chief Robert Westerman says the ohana spirit helped Kauai survive the calamity better than most.

"Kauai is a very resilient community," he said.


(c)2012 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Distributed by MCT Information Services


Story image: Homes damaged by storm surge from Iniki. Courtesy: NWS Honolulu.

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