Monday, August 10, 2009

Hurricane Kauai Sis

I was recently asked for advice on hurricane preparation, being such an experienced hurricane survivor as most of my fellow Kauaians are. Sure, the Felicia threat is long gone, but this looks to be an "active" hurricane year for the Pacific, so here you go, hurricane chat!

I'm actually thankful for my hurricane experiences, although one would have sufficed, thank you very much. My first hurricane was 1982's Iwa. Unlike the uber-early warnings we are given nowadays, we did not have DAYS to prepare for Iwa, it was more like HOURS. Perhaps the tracking systems were not as sophisticated 27 years ago. OH MY GOD, I just did the math right before typing "27". I can NOT believe it happened that long ago. Damn, I'm old! I can just imagine a teenager reading this and saying "Uh DUH, they didn't even have computers in those days, did they!?"

Anyway, we actually went to work the day of the hurricane. I worked at Star Market. We were finally allowed to go home in the afternoon, meaning we literally had just a few hours before the hurricane hit. Preparation? There pretty much was none that I can recall. Instead, I remember feeling excited in a "finally we get some excitement on Kauai!" way. (In case you didn't know, I was a Honolulu girl who'd been living on Kauai just 4 years at that point.) I can tell you now that the excitement turned into terror when a huge beam from someone's house crashed through our corrugated iron roof and landed 12 feet away from where I was sitting.

As soon as the winds died down a bit--the eye of the storm passing over Kalaheo--we jumped in the car and drove to the neighborhood center which was just down the road. The next day we drove to Waimea and Kokee--we had to hike part of the way as the roads were blocked by trees--amazed at the damage we saw. When you grow up in paradise, never witnessing extreme violence or even so much as a house fire except on a TV or movie screen, it is simply mindblowing to see the aftermath of a hurricane real time. You think surely you're dreaming, how can anyone possibly expect to clean this all up?!

At Star Market, it was raining. Inside the store. Umbrellas were in use. That's really all I remember about my first day back at work!

My second hurricane ten years later, Iniki, was much stronger than Iwa. We were living in our present house in Wailua Homesteads, which had only sustained very minor damage from Iwa. This time, however, we were given several days to prepare for the storm. We were all a lot wiser and there was certainly no excitement, just fear and trepidation, I'd guess, among those who had experienced Iwa.

This time we actually prepared and having done that, promptly drove ourselves to the convention hall in Lihue. Even though our house had a sturdy wooden and shingled roof as opposed to an old-fashioned corrugated iron one, we were not taking any chances, especially since this time we had 4-year-old Jordan to think about. The only bad part about being in a shelter is that you wonder what's going on "out there" and imagine that your house and car are being blown to bits.

When we were allowed to leave the shelter--in our intact car--the next morning, it was very slow-going because of downed utility poles and debris. Along the way, we passed many badly damaged homes. It was much worse than the damage Iwa had wrought. We were able to drive all the way up to within a block of our house. Geez, so ok I love suspense novels, but must my life be suspenseful? We had to walk the rest of the way so chicken that I am, I made my gallant husband walk ahead to survey the damage and come back to break it to me slowly.

He came back with good news: The house was still there, damage was minimal from what he could see: shingles missing, siding dented a bit here and there, but no broken windows! I probably cried with relief. The most disturbing news was that our dog was nowhere to be seen.

My favorite dog story:

We walked around the neighborhood looking for Puni several times, but hadn't been able to find her and assumed the worst. 5 days after the hurricane, our neighbor two houses away phoned us. "I think we have your dog in our yard, but she's busted up. She can't walk, maybe her leg or legs are broken!" Apparently Puni had been lying in the brush on that neighbor's large property and they heard her whimpering. I first tried calling our veternarian, but was unable to reach him, so I went over to their house, pulling Jordan's red wagon behind me. Sure enough, it was our sweet Puni lying there, covered with grass and dirt, unable to stand to greet me. I asked the neighbor if he could assist me and we lifted her onto the wagon. He accompanied me back to our house, and carefully placed her on our garage floor. She just lay there looking miserable and I decided to gently rinse her off to assess the damage. I reached for the garden hose and turned on the water. She looked at the hose, stood up, and walked away. End of favorite dog story.

Aside from witnessing the devastation, which is traumatic enough, probably the most jarring effect of the hurricane was having to live without power for 5 weeks and without TV for 3 months. Not 5 days...5 weeks. No generator. It was no fun at the time, but it certainly made us appreciate what we all take for granted: hot showers, refrigerators, washing machines, shopping on TV. Thank goodness I wasn't yet an internet-addict!!!

For years after that, I'd often say, "Everyone should be required to experience a hurricane!" Of course my personal experience was less traumatic than those who lost homes or got injured, so I shouldn't be so flippant. For me, however, it was a character-building experience that opened my mind to the power of nature and the power of human spirit. The devastation that the former brought, was ultimately overcome by the latter.

Meanwhile, here are a few tips that may not be mentioned in most "hurricane preparedness" lists:

1) Move beds and other furniture away from the windows and/or cover them if possible.

2) Put towels on the floor by some of the low windows.

3) Something I think is essential is to store your valuables in big plastic containers, secure the tops and put them in a safe area. I'm referring to things like photo albums, documents, favorite possessions, irreplaceable items, etc.

4) It would also be a good idea to videotape/photograph items in your house for insurance purposes.

5) WASH AND DRY ALL OF YOUR CLOTHES, TOWELS, LINENS...if you're without power after the hurricane, you'll be glad you did! For that matter, do as much as you can with "future power outage" in mind. Store a good supply of clothing, towels, linens in large plastic containers and cover them securely. Keep in mind that these containers may go through wind and rain!

6) Put your refrigerator at the highest (coldest setting) for a day before the hurricane is due to strike.

7) Do anything you can think of to better cope with possibly not having electricity for an extended period of time or consider purchasing a generator.

8) Cover your vehicles securely if they're to be left outside if you want to protect them from getting scratched by flying debris. (We didn't do this and I can't say the damage was bad, but this is advice for people who consider cars as family members).

Again, these are tips that are in addition to the usual advice given.

As the true internet addict would say, "For more help, google 'hurricane preparedness'!!".

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