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Hurricane Batters Hawaiian Islands of Kauai, Niihau : Storm: Islanders, tourists flee inland as Iniki roars in with 130 m.p.h. winds. State's worst storm of century knocks out power and phones, shuts Waikiki Beach.

September 12, 1992|SUSAN ESSOYAN and KENNETH R. WEISS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HONOLULU — Hurricane Iniki, a surprise from the south, slammed into the islands of Kauai and Niihau late Friday, putting thousands of hapless tourists and frightened residents to flight throughout Hawaii and shutting down Waikiki, the beach famous for its surfers and grass-skirted hula dancers.

Iniki swallowed all of Kauai with the full force of its 130-m.p.h. fury between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., Hawaii time. Bob Sheets, chief of the National Hurricane Center in Florida, said it was as strong as Hurricane Andrew, which struck Florida and Louisiana last month--and that it is the most powerful storm to hit Hawaii this century. Damage was reported, but there was no immediate word of casualties.

Schools and businesses closed throughout the Hawaiian Islands. People jammed stores to stock up on food, batteries, candles and masking tape. Hotel guests filled bathtubs with emergency water. Residents in low-lying areas evacuated their homes. Navy ships steamed out of Pearl Harbor to ride out the storm at sea, and Navy planes fled Barbers Point Naval Air Station on Oahu to Moffet Field in California.

Iniki (pronounced ee-NEE-kee) reached Category 4 intensity at times, with sustained winds of 145 m.p.h. and gusts to 175 m.p.h. It was the first hurricane to hit Hawaii in a decade. It formed to the south and had been expected to skitter safely past. But then it turned north and sent 20-foot waves and torrential rains crashing over Kauai. It knocked out all power and phones.

Although the eye of the hurricane missed many of Kauai's resorts and its largest city, Lihue, on the eastern and southernmost part of the island, it hurtled through vast sugar cane plantations on its western reaches, Andy Chun, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Honolulu, told news services. At the moment it hit, Gov. John Waihee was talking to Mayor JoAnn Yukimura.

She said the hurricane ripped the roof off the state office building in Lihue and was blowing windows out of the county building, the governor's spokeswoman told a news service reporter. Yukimura said debris was flying everywhere--and then telephone communication was lost.

Other residents of Kauai spoke via two-way radio with Roy C. Price, vice director of state civil defense in Honolulu, who told the Associated Press: "There has been severe structural damage to many buildings. Roofs have been blown off, and windows have been blown in."

But Price said Wilcox Hospital, the biggest on Kauai, initially reported no serious injuries. "If that's in fact true," he said, "that's just remarkable."

Similarly, telephone communication was lost to the smaller island of Niihau, to the southwest of Kauai. It was deluged with rain. The island is privately owned. It is home to about 300 people whose ancestry can be traced to the original inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands. There was no immediate report as to their fate.

Even as the early rains of Iniki, which means "sharp and piercing, as wind or pangs of love" in Hawaiian, began pounding the islands, Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi faxed a letter to President Bush warning of impending disaster and asking him to be ready to extend federal aid if necessary.

Hawaii got its first warning that Iniki was coming at 5:30 a.m. Friday.

Civil defense sirens wailed in Honolulu, home of Waikiki Beach. Residents and tourists awakened to radio announcers cautioning everyone to stay home and prepare. As people lined up at stores and gasoline stations, the Red Cross opened scores of shelters on both Oahu and Kauai, and volunteers began arriving from California.

Glenn Trapp, director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu, notified reporters that Iniki would be the worst storm in Hawaii since Hurricane Iwa in 1982--a Category 1 storm that left $234 million in damage.

By midday, the warnings were taking effect. Residents and guests at hotels within 300 feet of the beach on Oahu responded to orders to move inland. Fasi said they numbered about 20,000. Hotel workers tried frantically to secure furniture around swimming pools. They handed out candles. Many tourists flocked to airports to stand by for flights to the mainland.

Despite the evacuation orders, Fasi said he did not expect hotels to move all of their guests out. "We're not evacuating everyone," he said. "There are just too many guests. The hotel managers got together. What they're doing for the safety of their guests is enough. These are concrete buildings, after all." But Fasi was tougher about residents in single-family homes, particularly those in the area near Waikiki Beach.

"Get out!" he ordered them. "You had better not be within 100 yards of the shore."

On Kauai, Yukimura similarly urged coastal residents and visitors to evacuate inland. She feared that the surf, expected to reach 30 feet, would devastate low-lying parts of the island. Flights between Kauai and Oahu were canceled, along with other inter-island flights, at midmorning.

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