A Loud Wake-up Call From Felicia

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - August 19, 2009
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Let us all count our blessings.

Felicia wasn’t the big bad wolf it was certainly capable of being, and for that we should be grateful. In fact, in the end, Felicia provided us with some much-needed rain and solid surf on our eastern shores.

But this storm was far from a non-event.

Over the last few days I’ve been approached by many people in stores, restaurants and out on the streets who’ve made the same comment: “The media really hyped up the storm.”

With all due respect, I disagree. There’s a difference between hype and providing information, especially in the world we live in today. People crave immediate information. They want it now, and it’s often just a click away.

We live in a very different world than in 1992, when Hawaii was last hit by a major storm - when Hurricane Iniki made its sudden northerly turn toward Kauai, very few people were tracking the storm on the Internet. There was no Facebook, no MySpace and Twitter may have been considered something naughty 17 years ago.

Instant messaging and the World Wide Web have changed the way we all get our information. What was once considered “news” on the nightly 6 o’clock newscast is now often several hours old.

Thanks to modern technology, we watched Felicia’s every move. Even my 9-year-old was tracking this storm on stormpulse.com and the National Weather Service’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center site. We knew where Felicia was, how fast she was moving and her maximum wind speeds.

Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares even called her “Fickle Felicia” because her track kept moving. Truth is, hurricane tracks have always wobbled. We just never had access to so much immediate information. How we digest that information and what we do with it is up to us. Sometimes having too much information makes us numb.

Felicia fizzled, but along the way she provided us with another valuable lesson on preparedness. Just ask Kauai residents how important that is.

Remember, Felicia peaked at a Category 4 storm, packing sustained winds of 140 mph with gusts to 161. Iniki also was a Category 4 storm when its eye passed directly over Kauai and leveled the Garden Island. It was the most powerful storm to hit the Hawaiian Islands in recorded history. It also was the first hurricane to hit the state since Hurricane Iwa in 1982, and the first major hurricane since Hurricane Dot in 1959.

Iniki caused six deaths and an estimated $3 billion in damage. The storm left 14,350 homes damaged or destroyed - several of which belonged to my family.

I remember watching my grandparents and parents endure life after Iniki. The home I grew up in was reduced to rubble. There was no running water. There was no electricity. There was no communication. There was no ice. These living conditions lasted for weeks and, for some families, months. The tears that streamed down my grandmother’s cheeks every night were very real. Depression was something every family dealt with while rebuilding their homes and their lives. Some families never recovered. Hurricanes can be very unkind.

Kauai survived and its residents are stronger because of the devastating storm. Iniki was one of 11 Central Pacific tropical cyclones during the 1992 hurricane season. We’re off to a very busy start in 2009, and like 1992, we are in the midst of an El Nino year.

Oahu was lucky in 1992.

Iniki caused only minor damage here. And we were lucky with Felicia.

But remember:All it takes is one. I know. I saw it with my own eyes and I will never forget.

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