Hurricane Iniki

On Kauai We Remember Hurricane Iniki: 30th Anniversary

This weekend we reflect on the most intense hurricane to strike Hawaii 30 years ago, on September 11, 1992. Hurricane Iniki took that unexpected sharp right turn on that fateful day and devastated the island of Kauai. Iniki is the Hawaiian word for a piercing, sharp wind.

After billions of dollars in damages, 100 injuries, and six deaths later, the storm rapidly moved on.

Hurricane Iniki slammed onto Kauai’s south shore, leaving uprooted trees, blocked roads with downed power poles, roofless buildings, and other damage. Winds were over 100 miles per hour, waves hit around 20 feet at Poipu, and 1,500 homes were destroyed.

Without electricity, freezers and refrigerators of vacant houses and condos were raided so that food didn’t spoil and those here could eat. There are many tales of epic BBQs at condos on the south shore of Kauai. Jeff owned a condo at Nihi Kai Villas. He was on the mainland when the storm struck. Rob was here about a month later and couldn’t believe what he saw. He recalls flying into an empty Lihue airport on a flight with college admission representatives. Tents were set up at Kauai Community College so that island students could continue their college prep. Since all of the hotels were closed, the representatives were flown back to Honolulu the same day. Ten years later, he returned to Kauai to make the island his home.

Trivia – Steven Spielberg was set to film the final day of Jurassic Park when Hurricane Iniki hit. Filming was altered, and some of the storm is seen in the movie’s final cut. The 130 cast and crew members, including the film stars — Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, and Richard Attenborough — waited out Hurricane Iniki.

Also, the feral chicken problem on Kauai was greatly exacerbated by chickens that got loose during Hurricane Iniki. 

Gratitude – While the island was devastated, many remember boats that brought food and ice, a company that set up banks of phones for free calls anywhere, and FEMA’s support that included food stamps for all those on Kauai. While lines were often long, the island all came together to help each other and return Kauai to its beauty.

Kauai’s pain made global news.

The most powerful hurricane to strike Hawaii in recorded history.

The hurricane began in early September or late August. It came during a hurricane-inducing El Nino season that resulted in 11 named tropical disturbances that year.

Iniki is believed to have first developed off the coast of West Africa in mid-August. It traversed South and Central America before entering the Pacific Ocean later that month.

Iniki striking Hawaii was preceded by Iwa, which hit Hawaii just one decade earlier.

Why didn’t the Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) notify residents?

The CPHC didn’t issue tropical storm warnings and watches 24 hours beforehand. So there was a severe lack of preparation which exacerbated the issues.

As late as September 6, the Hurricane Center incorrectly believed that Iniki would dissipate, and they stopped all advisories. But when that didn’t occur, on September 7, advisories were again issued while the storm intensified and tracked northward. It became a hurricane on September 9. On September 10, aircraft already found 115mph winds, while on September 11, they had increased to 175mph.

It wasn’t until less than 24 hours before Iniki struck that the Hurricane Center issued even a hurricane watch for Kauai. Then, almost immediately, that was upgraded to a hurricane warning. Later, warning sirens began to warn of the encroaching storm, albeit far too late.

The eye of Iniki made landfall on the coast of Kauai near Waimea with winds of 140mph, and within 40 minutes after arriving, it reentered the Pacific as it continued to speed northwest.

This video captures what it was like to be here. If you were on Kauai during Iniki, we invite you to share your experiences.


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15 thoughts on “On Kauai We Remember Hurricane Iniki: 30th Anniversary”

  1. I remember our kids went to school on 9/11- – we did not know that severe of a storm was coming to Kauai… we were then able to pick them up after lunch was served… and then needed to get to a safe place by about 5 pm…. not much time to prepare!!!

  2. The video is eye opening. A few years after Iniki we visited Kauai, fell in love with the island and purchased a timeshare week in Poipu. The resort had been repaired after being heavily damaged in the storm and the landscaping was still recovering. Years later it was discovered that repairs to the resort were faulty & there was a serious mold problem. Owners got hit with a huge assessment to take care of the problem and there is resentment to this day among long time owners. Hopefully others fared better with rebuilding.

  3. Watching this 30 years later still elicits a knot in my stomach and tears in my eyes. We lived at the ” mandatory evacuation ” point in poipu. Watching people evacuate I was concerned did they get the evacuation points correct. Much damage to our home but all safe. Have since moved to main land and my personalized auto license plate has always been “INIKI.

  4. Hurricane Iniki hit on my son’s first birthday. We lived on Oahu at Aliamanu Military Reservation and my husband was stationed at Schoefield Barracks We had family in town and we all huddled in our 2 bedroom apt waiting for the hurricane to hit Was quite memorable and scary, but we still celebrated his birthday with cake and everything amongst the taped windows and our bathtub filled with water, just in case

  5. I was in Oahu on Business, a trip that ironically didn’t include Maui or Kauai, just Waikiki, Honolulu, Ala Moana, Pearl Ridge and Kahala; at 0600, I had a call from an Account living in Kahala advising that they were being evacuated to higher ground, with Tsunami Warnings. I normally was at the Moana, but with the shortness of the trip, was at the Hyatt across the street, Oceanfront 20 floors up, watching Iniki come in and cross Kalakaua. By mid afternoon, it made a path for Kauai where Nawilili to Poipu got slammed with devastion that was 5 years later still being repaired, the Waiohai, we stayed at in ’88 completely destroyed. The Choi’s and I found Nick’s Fishmarket open, Waikiki was open for business.

  6. My wife and I were living at Kahili Mountain Park in Koloa. On Thursday evening we got the message that the hurricane had made a right turn. I drove down to Lihue. I first went and got gas in my vehicle and filled it up all the way. People started lining up behind me. And then I drove and cleaned out as much money as I could from the teller. I drove home and filled up the bathtubs. In the morning around 11 o’clock is when it really hit. My wife was pregnant with our first child and we were behind a piano with a mattress over our heads and the roof went. I remember it got quiet around 3 PM and I went outside and it was blue sky but when I turned and looked down toward the southside you can see a gray wall from the ocean up to sky: eyewall.

  7. Unrelated to Kauai, just got to Waikiki yesterday – it’s a ghost town. I thought you guys or someone else wrote that tourism was higher than pre-covid.

    No lines.

    That’s the good news. The bad news – seems like businesses and their employees are hurting.

    1. Hi Rod.

      Tourism numbers seem very hit and miss and the moment. Yes, we shared that arrivals on Maui for example, are still higher most days than pre-Covid.

      Have a great time and enjoy the quiet while you can.


  8. We weren’t there but I surely remember the aftermath. To this day the tree tunnel is still recovering. Green parrots also escaped into the environment and now there are thousands of them on the south end of the island. As you know, chickens are now part of the Kauai experience. The older concrete buildings seem to have fared better. For a few years rentals were incredibly inexpensive. We have two brothers friends, who were born and raised on Kauai and they remember the hurricane as part of life’s experience. I did some research and as near as I can figure hurricanes seem to hit Kauai once every 100 years. Nice piece of work with the video.

    1. I live in Omao near Koloa and my roof went across the road taking my electric wiring with it, my house was pushed off its pier and post foundation which broke my water line, all my windows and French doors broke on the south side taking shards of glass deep into the house, and of course all my canic ceilings then became saturated with rain water and fell down inside the house. The only trees that survived unscathed on my property were tall skinny palm trees that bent all the way over in the wind but stood back up afterwards. It took me over 2 years to rebuild my home and replant my yard as I did much of the work myself with only one contractor friend who flew in from the mainland because he felt sorry for a woman working alone!

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