Hurricane Iniki dealt a direct blow to Kauai Island on Friday with wind gusting to 160 mph and torrential rain. It caused severe damage to many buildings, a civil defense official said.
Twenty-foot waves crashed over coastal highways and the island lost all power and telephone service even before the worst of the storm hit.It was the most powerful hurricane in the Hawaiian islands this century, said Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla. He said Iniki was about as strong as devastating Hurricane Andrew, which roared through the Bahamas, south Florida and Louisiana last month.
Hurricane Iniki's fiercest winds covered all of Kauai, said Saul Price, a National Weather Service forecaster in Honolulu. The island is roughly circular and 30 miles across and has a population of more than 50,000.
Oahu, the state's most populated island with 800,000 people, is separated from Kauai by an 80-mile-wide channel and was spared the brunt of the storm. But a 10- to 20-foot surf pounded Oahu's southern coast, heavy rain fell and power lines were blown down. The Oahu Civil Defense Agency reported that an unoccupied house collapsed and roofs blew off two other buildings.
On Kauai, however, "There has been severe structural damage to many buildings," said Roy C. Price, vice director of state Civil Defense. "Roofs have been blown off and windows have been blown in." His reports came via two-way radio from officials on Kauai.
Wilcox Hospital, the biggest on Kauai, and the Kauai mayor's office initially reported no serious injuries, Price said. "If that's in fact true, that's just remarkable," he said.
Lihue Airport is operational and officials are setting priorities on relief supplies to be flown to the island, Price said.
Iniki had sustained wind to 130 mph and gusts to 160 mph as it passed over Kauai, the Weather Service said. That was down from 145-mph sustained wind and 175-mph gusts earlier Friday.
The eye of the fast-moving hurricane passed over Kauai starting at about 4 p.m. (8 p.m. MDT), said Andy Chun, lead forecaster at the Weather Service in Honolulu. An hour later the eye was reported to be about 50 miles north of Kauai, back over the North Pacific.
Chun said the eye of Iniki passed over the western part of Kauai, where there are many sugar cane plantations. Most of the island's resorts and other development are concentrated on the easternmost part of Kauai, where Lihue, the largest city, is located.
Kauai Mayor JoAnn Yukimura, talking with Gov. John Waihee via two-way radio as the storm swept over the island, reported that the roof of the state office building in Lihue was torn off and windows of the county building were blown out, said Waihee's press secretary, Carolyn Tanaka.
Torrential rain fell on Kauai and Niihau, an island 25 miles to the west that is populated by about 300 native Hawaiians.
Before the worst of the hurricane struck, streets of Lihue were virtually deserted as intensifying winds bent palm trees sideways and rocked parked cars. Heavy rains drenched the area.
And 20-foot waves along Kauai's southern coast sent waves over roads and highways, the Weather Service said. It said the island lost all electricity at 1:20 p.m. All phone links to the island were lost by 3 p.m., Hawaiian Telephone Co. said.
On Oahu, 45,000 of the 250,000 customers were without electrical service Friday night, Hawaiian Electric Co. said. Some water service also was out.
Earlier, as Iniki approached, residents of the northwesternmost Hawaiian islands loaded up on food, candles and masking tape, battened down coastal homes and moved into Red Cross shelters.
"The grocery stores were packed at 5 o'clock this morning," said Steve Heard of Honolulu. "People were panicking and trying to get in and out and the lines were hellacious to get gas, the lines were hellacious going through the checkout stands at the grocery stores."
Navy ships at Pearl Harbor were sent to sea to ride out the storm.
Though the storm wound up passing west of Oahu, the island was included in a hurricane warning because of strong winds feeding the storm from the east, said Weather Service meteorologist Tom Heffner. That warning later was downgraded to a tropical storm warning.
Civil Defense sirens sounded before dawn, rousing residents and tourists throughout Oahu and Kauai. Businesses were closed and workers were advised to stay home and make preparations. Usually jammed freeways flowed smoothly during the rush hour.
"With all the stuff about (Hurricane) Andrew, we now have a healthy respect for weather systems," said tourist John Sellman, of Melbourne, Australia, before leaving with his wife, Sherrill, on a flight to Oahu Island, where Honolulu and Pearl Harbor are located.
Vehicles were lined up by the score outside gasoline stations.
The Red Cross opened 41 shelters on Oahu and Kauai.
Kauai Mayor JoAnn Yukimura called on coastal residents and visitors to evacuate inland. Low-lying areas on the island, which has a population of more than 50,000, would be susceptible to surf that could reach 30 feet.