1. Archive

Iniki puts dangerous twist on trip

Their food was rapidly defrosting after the hurricane, so people started cooking on hibachis and handing out food to anyone who was hungry.

Vincent and Edna Walsh of Spring Hill have nothing but admiration for the way the Hawaiian people took Hurricane Iniki in stride, even though it had devastated most of the island of Kauai.

The Walshes arrived Sept. 10, the day before Iniki hit. They planned to celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary in Hawaii and attend the 50th reunion of Vincent's World War II infantry division at the same time.

As it turned out, the veterans from the famous New York Regiment, "The Fighting 69th," ended up fighting an unexpected invasion of the island by an enemy with more destructive power than any army they might have fought a half-century before.

"At first, we were told the hurricane would hit Oahu, but the forecast changed on the night of Sept. 10, and we knew it was headed straight for Kauai," Edna Walsh said. "The Coast Guard was there even before the storm hit."

The Walshes were ordered to evacuate at 9 a.m. the 11th. They piled their belongings on the top shelves of the closets in the hotel and drove to Kapaa School.

"All the electricity was turned off just before the storm hit in the late afternoon," Vincent explained. If live wires came down over roads and buildings, it would add to the danger.

The winds came roaring in at 165 mph, and gigantic waves crashed across the island. Wind tore the roof off the gym, so evacuees were moved to other parts of the building. Vincent said they watched as the wind tore trees and shrubs to shreds and as signs, tin and roofs flew through the air.

After the eye of the hurricane passed, the wind returned in the opposite direction. The wind that blew debris away from the school now brought it back as if to destroy anything the storm might have missed as it knifed its way across Kauai the first time.

During the long night, the Walshes caught moments of restless sleep with their heads resting on top of the children's desks in the sixth-grade classroom.

When the winds subsided on the morning of the 12th, the Walshes were awed by the aftermath. Houses were torn apart, trees, water and sand covered the roads, telephone poles were down, and what trees remained looked as if they had been stripped by some kind of merciless machine.

About 100 cars were parked outside the school, and all were damaged in various degrees. Vincent said, "All the windows in our rental car were broken." Still, the car was operable, and the Walshes were able to get back to their hotel.

The hotel had no food or drinking water. The swimming pool provided water to wash and bucketfuls for guests to carry to their rooms to flush the toilets.

"We left the hotel again, in search of food and water," Edna said. "We admired the way Hawaiians started working right away, picking up their things, washing their children in floodwaters and repairing their homes. They didn't start asking for help right away," she said.

Businesses pitched in to help. Baskin-Robbins gave away free ice cream, which was doomed to melt anyway, and Subway gave away food with any donation for the storm victims. "They ran out of bread but kept handing out cooked meat until it was gone," Vincent said.

The Walshes found a bar that still had plenty of ice. Edna said they were grateful to get two bottles of cold beer; their first meal after the hurricane was beer, cold meat and crackers.

"We had no flashlight, candles or battery radios and no way of communicating with the other islands," said Vincent. "When it got dark, we just went to bed because we were very tired."

Without electricity it was impossible to pump gas, and the Walshes wanted to save enough to drive to the airport. Rumors were flying. When they heard the Hilton Hotel had its own generator and some fresh water and food, Vincent and Edna decided to use some of their precious fuel to drive over.

By the time they arrived, only cereal, milk and fruit remained, but Edna said it was a great meal and anything cold and icy tasted wonderful.

The Army Reserve offered to take people to the Armory on the chance they might be flown out on an Army transport, so the Walshes decided to pack up, leave the rental car at the hotel and take the bus to Armory. The place was filled with tourists.

"The control tower at the airport had been leveled, so Hawaiian and Aloha Air could only bring supplies and evacuate people during daylight hours. We heard about lines of tourists waiting for 10 to 13 hours to get a seat on a plane, and even then, many were turned away."

Vincent told a reporter from the Los Angeles Times that he and Edna were anxious to get word to their family on the mainland that they were all right. When the reporter flew to Honolulu, he called the Walshes' daughter in New York to tell her they had survived Iniki unharmed.

The Walshes said the Salvation Army and Red Cross were wonderful. Edna Walsh volunteered to hand out food to the crowd and clean up.

The incredible Hawaiian people surprised them once more. "Here they had lost their homes and belongings," said Edna, "but that night, they put on a show, singing and dancing the hula for the tourists at the Armory."

With the help of a young couple on their honeymoon, the Walshes finally got to the airport and were put aboard an Army transport plane that flew them to the island of Oahu. They stayed until Sept. 18.

Vincent and Edna arrived in Tampa on Sept. 19 and celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary at the elegant Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg. They arrived back in Spring Hill on Sept. 21.

The Walshes said they were a little surprised that Iniki's destruction received so little coverage in Florida newspapers. Hurricane Andrew, as vicious and destructive as Iniki, had cut a wider swath through South Florida and Louisiana. They understood; it was a bad year for hurricanes.