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.
By midafternoon, most flights from the mainland also had been canceled. Some were diverted to the island of Hawaii.
In Honolulu, the state capital, Waihee spoke highly of emergency planning. "(It) seems to be falling into place at the county level,” he told a Honolulu radio station. “I talked to Washington a couple of times and once to the director of FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). The Army called to offer any backup resources they may have to help us.
“I think that right across the state, they have been preparing for this type of emergency. People have responded tremendously. They are listening to the sirens. They are responding appropriately. . . . They are calling in with questions. Communication seems to be working very well.
“I think this is a time for us to remember our neighbors,” the governor added. “If we look out for each other and get questions answered and pull together, we should be all right.”
Guests at the massive Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu were herded into a second-floor ballroom to wait out the storm. Hotel officials said they would be safe there from breaking glass and flying debris. Before leaving their rooms, the guests pulled porch furniture inside.
“We want to get them (the guests) down to the ballroom and get them food and get them comfortable,” said B. J. Hughes, a hotel spokeswoman. “They have a lot of questions, but they’re relatively calm.”
Police with bullhorns cleared all of the beaches outside the hotel, scooping up tourists and directing them to the Sheraton and other high-rise hotels or to emergency shelters. “We just came from Miami to get away, and I guess we’re caught in the middle of another one,” sighed Larry Blitz, a Florida resident, shaking his head as he left the waterfront.
Some hotel owners piled sandbags around their buildings to protect the structures. Others ordered workers to secure windows with masking tape, partially blocking views of the roiling ocean nearby and of Diamond Head in the distance. “This is the point of no return,” said Thomas Schroeder, a meteorologist at the University of Hawaii. “Other than TV anchors, everybody should be heading for high ground.”
As city buses began shuttling residents in the Waikiki area toward the Oahu hills, Outrigger Hotels Hawaii moved guests out of some of its oceanfront rooms and the lower floors at two of its hotels. But Perry Sorenson, executive vice president, said only about 200 rooms out of 7,000 in the statewide hotel chain were affected.
“We’re all concrete buildings,” Sorenson said. “And we feel that is as safe as anywhere.
The Moana Hotel, a historic wooden landmark recently restored to turn-of-the-century elegance, began shifting some guests to neighboring Sheraton properties and away from danger.
At a downtown grocery store in Honolulu, lines of people snaked through the aisles. Customers waited for as long as an hour to ring up their purchases. One frustrated customer tried to leave without paying. Clerks stopped him.
During the late afternoon, John Broderick, a Coast Guardsman from Little Valley, N.Y., stationed in Honolulu, reported winds of 40 to 50 m.p.h. “I filled up the water in the sink and the bathtub,” he said. “I got all my canned goods stocked in. I am on the 17th floor. It’s not necessary to evacuate--yet.
"(But) I am walking everywhere with my cellular phone.
“They (the shelters) are filling up really quick. People are not taking a lot of chances.”
By 5 p.m., roughly 49,000 people in Honolulu were without power. Another 16,000 people had lost power earlier, but it was restored. Although no major damage was reported on Oahu, some windows were blown in and telephone poles were knocked down.
About 300 travelers were stranded at Honolulu International Airport--most of them trying to return to the mainland. The military provided rations and blankets to help them get through the night.
In all, about 100 shelters had been opened on Oahu by nightfall, and 26,000 people flocked into them before the storm passed.
Ten-foot waves and winds gusting to 60 m.p.h. threw debris along the south and west coastline of Maui, said Richard Haake, a county official.
“I may have lost my boat, but I feel so lucky,” said Dave Aicher, of Lahaina. “At least I have a place to sleep tonight. If we had 100-m.p.h. winds, it would have taken the roof right off my cottage.
Aicher was clutching a quart of milk. “To settle my stomach,” he said.
He said he made two attempts to reach his sailboat before it was lost to the hurricane.
Along one evacuated block of Lahaina, residents said they saw six boats smashed into the shore by wind-driven waves. But authorities said no homes appeared to have suffered more than water damage.
No deaths or injuries were reported.
Weiss, a Times staff writer, reported from Maui, and Essoyan, a Times special correspondent, reported from Oahu. Staff writers John Goldman in New York and Richard E. Meyer in Los Angeles contributed to this story.