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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Hurricane Iniki - 9/11/91

By Steve Kemp who blogs at OldWebsterQuips

Hawai'i, December 10, 1990 - fly into Kaua'i, alone, for what became two years Hawaiian living, working on contract to the Navy at Pacific Missile Range, (PMRF in Barking Sands).

Being a white guy, dumb-haole, I try learn talk da kine pidgin, but no hula girls for me, nor music, nor writing, just Kill a Haole Day. Being a victim made me discover my own racism, and all the little racist habits such as not looking someone in the eye.

Becoming addicted to Japanese bento lunches - sticky-rice, spam - made me start to really blimp up. But mmm, plunging my face into burst-open passion fruit - gooey, tangy - I know why they call it passion.

Stupid smoker me, swimming alone in Hanalei beach surf rip current, overweight, out of shape, panting, tiring, panting, failing, panic pecking at me, heaving final breathing exhaustion toes-touching sand success. Close call. I could easily have died.

Invited to go along to the Big Island for total eclipse; midday birds roosting and dogs wanting to be fed again after totality. Funny.

Start driving, driving, driving, clockwise from Kona coast north, up through cowboy and cactus country and across the northern coast, then heading south to lovely Hilo. A hitchhiker described to me the "palpable presence in the air hereabouts." He was right.

Continuing toward the island's southern tip, stopped to take a short hike to watch boiling, red, glowing, lava bubble into the sea along with choking sulphur. Awesome.

For me, Hurricane Iniki started on my way home from work as I heard that weird siren, soon to be echoed by my mournful wailing Dale the cat.

We had plenty of warning, so I worked into the wee hours packing up my electronics stuff, wrapping it all up tight and stowing it in the upstairs bathroom. I filled the tub with water, along with the washing machine in the carport. I figured I might be needing that water, and I did, too. Dale would stay home - no pets would be welcome at the shelter, no room at the inn.

By 11AM next morning, most everyone is drifting into Waimea to shelter inside the high school cafeteria now acting like tourists with nothing to do but stand around watching, while the weather winds up for three hours until finally it sounds like a hurling locomotive and we watch 140mph winds make a church steeple fly by in midair to the dismay of the scared chattering Hawaiians.

Then the shrieking monster flings flying logs flogging thumping at the cafeteria walls. A louvered window bursts. Well, that suddenly transforms everyone, down to the last blasé idle observer, into active participants, floor-diving under the tables, scrambling for room, out of harm's way, we all hope.

The wind lets up slowly, quiets, starts to abate, then finally falls into an eerie stillness under a sunny, clear, blue sky. We are in the eye of the hurricane and all is serene for 20 minutes.

A few brave souls go exploring. Me too, but after seeing how much devastation and danger there really is, I cut it short.

The wind slowly begins to pick up again, this time reversing direction from south to north. Everyone starts to retreat back into the cafeteria for round two; coming out of the calm and going back into the spiraling hurricane.

Wind starts to howl now while we watch it whipping the giant mascot football helmet flopping, flipping and fumbling down to the football field's far final foot - back to where it came from, four hours ago. Comical.

Spawning of mini-tornadoes to twist off sharp sheets of corrugated metal to fling into the air; spearing a two-by-four into someone's bedroom wall; a pickup truck bouncing around up off the ground, trying to go aloft and dance away, two-wheels in the wind, but the back wheels hold firm; it must have had a good emergency brake.

And hearing about two German boy scout campers restroom-hiding at the beach, clutching the bowl for dear life, being a close call for them. But funny.

Now, all are reverent souls, equal, vulnerable, kind, simply aloha, facing and sharing danger, destruction everywhere, walking over unrecognizable moonscape devastation neighborhoods, among fallen poles, shattered glass shards strewn, laying amid electric and phone wires, maybe dead, maybe not.

Downed pole's power lines on my house have scrubbed wash-boarded gashes leaking through my roof. Dale the cat is thoroughly pissed at me, making no eye contact for days. Poor, ancient, giant, rootless, goner mango tree now lays safely next to the house. Lucky - only had one window broken, the little one I cracked open in the downstairs bathroom, to allow some pressure relief from that sucking and puffing wind in order to keep the rest of the windows from exploding.

All over the island seeing sad, bent, black-frond palm trees, dozens of rusted old van roofs that the winds had peeled, curling them up like old sardine cans. Slime rife, ready to spread strife, ancient fungus goo and God only knows what, blown all over the place from the highest swamp on earth, named Alaka'i, 4000 feet up there on Mt. Waialiali which itself happens to hold the record as the wettest place on earth.

The big fear at the outset is: will there be any water? Are the pumps running? Is there any power for them? After the fresh food starts to go bad, all the frozen stuff defrosts at the same time and it turns into parties all over the place, for awhile, while all share the best food stored in their freezers, wild goat and all. Everyone sort of automatically becoming loving people.

In the deep darkness of late evening on day three, from my lanai I can barely make out two columns of National Guard silhouettes silently slogging in along the highway, silent as can be, not a sight you see every day.

We finally start to get water from the tap after three days. But still no power, phone, or radio - no news, no clues, no idea, just deep, lingering silence and black, silent nights.

The silence finally gets to me so I grab my flute to play Amazing Grace from my lanai out over the neighborhood, now a flattened sea of smashed stick houses. Someone cheers. I feel a little better.

Everyone gets used to Humvees rolling by and weeks of eating hot Army chow, or cold MREs. When the radio comes back, someone announces the local mokes are having trouble understanding the MRE cooking instructions, so the radio guys are now on-air explaining that to "knead" the MRE peanut butter means, "Make lomi da peenot bottah." Have to laugh.

No ice for weeks. Really missing ice. Busy ants appear on and around the dresser in my bedroom. As I try to pick up the place, my unsuspecting, out-reached hands disturb half a dozen, big, three-inch ones that start to scuttle away. I dispatch them, but then I turn around and see two more columns of very fast tiny ants marching up the back of the dresser. Brrr. Never seen either kind before the storm.

After talking my a way into getting a badge, I become a Civil Defense poseur and soon find myself acting as a delivery guy for the family of a young girl in Kekaha who are desperate to find her a 12-year birthday cake. But before I can leave to do that, another Kekaha woman begs me also to get cases of Kotex, for cranky Kekaha clapboard weary wa-heenays all da kyne bleedeeng too-ghedda.

A legend is made by a pair of pitiful, castaway, Hawaiian honeymoon newlyweds from California who have been nesting in a rental car since the hotel room is gone with the wind. They are still around here after three weeks, no flights out. Everyone aloha for them, but have to laugh at their plight.

Silly, goony, local National Guard struggles but then welcome aboard to Marine Corps, shrewd and able, saving a suffering baby with a USMC mosquito net, making refrigerator ice, putting out reverse osmosis fresh-water bladders.

Salvation Army there firstest with the mostest, solely kind, unassuming, humble, helpful souls. Then tardy Evangelicals arriving but with them, none can eat until all first obey, be silent and pray their christian prayers. Pissed.

Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park company surviving the storm, leaving behind their big generator, no prayers required.

Then after four weeks with no power, 40 GeneralTel phone booths appear in Kekaha - free phone calls, big relief all around, but now seeing sweeping, swamp-borne, rampant, wind-vector, fungal infections from that swamp up on the mountain followed by weeks of burning huge smoking heaps of refuse and rubble.

Dozens of erect power/phone poles stretching off into the horizon with 30 linemen perched aloft in them to pull new cable down the line by hand. Lost, bewildered birds, dozens of solitary hawks hanging out on the phone wires.

As soon as the power does come back, all those new feelings of brotherhood vanish. And yet still, no home phones, no TV.

Fly out for resting and recreation Oahu relief tour - ICE! - car stereo blasting, driving just for the fun of it, Pagoda Hotel, room service, TV, then air-conditioned movies and one big Iniki relief concert at Blaisedall Arena: Crosby Stills Nash, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Buffett - they are all stars, but Bonnie reigning with such a BIG voice.

I came back refreshed and happy.

My landlord chooses now to evict me, opening a chase sequence that starts to unfold in slow motion when someone comes up to me at work and informs me that there is a COP waiting to serve a summons to me at the PMRF main gate. So I drive home through the back gate, nervously.

I made it a week, succeeding in this cat-and-mouse game, but finally one night after work, a cop hides in the Ishihara market parking lot right across from my house. After he finally serves me the eviction summons, he actually mentions how hard I've been to get! Very satisfying but only because I don't go to jail.

I go to court but by now, the summons has lapsed so the court clerk just tells me to go home. I know another summons will eventually come and the cops will be looking for me again, so I get very cagey and start the process of moving back to San Diego.

I feel like it's touch and go, right down to the point where the moving van is packed and I can beat a sneaky, skulking path to the airport to make good my escape.

Aloha, grand total sum of two friends named Tom - Tom the astronomer and Tom the geodesic domer - and a friend named Angie. Otherwise it has been a lonesome, toiling sentence but highlighted by adventures in nature - a live volcano, a class 5 hurricane, a total solar eclipse, visited four islands and flew over all of them, two years living in the most remote place on earth. And passion fruit. And a police chase.

And Kill a Haole Day.

After getting blown off the islands, I descended into San Diego for Christmas season - serene SoCal sand sculpture scene, OB kelp smells, mellow pelicans, seagulls, shells, while fat Hawaiian unemployment checks kept me more than afloat.

But first, I had to convince the State of California that being evicted while living in a disaster area was a valid reason to receive unemployment checks. They wanted a description in writing - now that was fun to write because I knew just what to give them! And I ended it with, "... but the fungal infections have finally stopped."

Well, no jobs were to be had, so it was time to slide into the next phase: some composing and some serious doo-wop music-making with a 4-track audio recorder, the newest sound software, synthesizer, digital instruments and a new used MacPlus - with a one year reprieve from working. Time to play again.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Wow !!! What an adventure. I hope I never have to go through a storm like that. The aftermath sounds worse than the storm. I'm glad you made it through both and I am sure San Diego never looked so good.

Great writing about terrifying circumstances..in paradise yet....Wow, living in the big city I automatically use the WIZARD OF OZ movie as what a tornado would be like...you have cured that remedy for me...if you are not a reporter, you should be..those are some scenes for great movie/s..and music to boot..It is always interesting how humans can come together in awful times & then get right back to "real" life, so to speak, just as easily...Living in NYC my entire 70.5 years, I can attest to that..Just loved the piece...write more..

Love the writing!

Glad you enjoyed it.
You folks are all too kind -- thanks!

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