Tropical Storm Wali has come and gone. It rained off and on all day Saturday, then poured much of Sunday morning, the rain sometimes driven almost horizontally by strong gusts. Power went out in the wee hours and came back just as we were wondering when it would be necessary to fire up the portable generator tucked away in a corner of the garage.
We don’t get really severe storms — tropical hurricanes — very often, but they’ve been horrific when they do show up. The last really bad one, Hurricane Iniki (ee-NEE-kee), was passing well to the south of us back in September of 1992, when it suddenly made a 90-degree turn to the north, strengthened into a monster, and smacked head on into the island of Kauai.
Winds were recorded at 160 miles-per-hour, but there’s no doubt that gusts were higher than that. The head of the island’s Public Works Department told me that the equivalent of 30-years-worth of trash was generated during the 90 minutes it took for Iniki to pass over the island.
Power was out almost everywhere for four weeks and much longer than that in many isolated areas. In the months that followed, something like 11,000 utility poles had to be replaced and, for almost a year, one could see telephone lines strung on palm trees and still in use.
Some 14,000 homes were completely trashed and 40,000 other houses and buildings were damaged.
One interesting result of that storm can be seen to this day: some of the locals were raising chickens for the illegal cock-fighting prevalent on that island and the high winds obliterated many hundreds of their chicken coops. The birds were blown everywhere, but survived, and today there are wild chickens running loose everywhere on the island.
Another consequence of that storm was an extreme reluctance on the part of insurance companies to continue insuring private homes in Hawaii. When it came time to renew our homeowners’ coverage, I was interviewed at length by someone at the Hartford’s home office, eventually providing an answer that gave the company the excuse to refuse to continue our policy. Hurricane coverage is now excluded from most homeowners’ policies here, but there are two companies offering supplementary hurricane coverage. Ka-ching, ka-ching!
Iniki was 22 years ago, but you don’t forget an experience like that.