Maria reminder of Iniki 25 years later

Viewpoint

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. As a near-Category 5 hurricane, Maria cause widespread devastation to the island. Power to most of the island was gone due to damage to the electrical infrastructure. A month later, power has still not been restored to most of the island. And the outlook doesn’t look good for restoration of power anytime soon.

The scenario in Puerto Rico is a reminder to folks who lived through Hurricane Iniki 25 years ago. A summary by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) showed the following initial damage and timeline to restore their power system:

• Damage assessment showed that all 24,469 customers on Kauai were without electricity.

• Approximately a quarter of all transmission poles and distribution poles were down or damaged.

• Power was restored to its first customers two days after the storm, but electrical service was restored to its last community 74 days after the storm.

OK, let that sink in for a moment. Service to the last community took over two months before being restored. And in speaking with Ed Nakaya from KIUC, electrical service restoration to a community did not mean the customers were receiving power.

Before KIUC could connect the houses to their electrical system, the houses needed to be assessed to see if it was safe to have electricity restored. Many of the homes were damaged, and a certified electrician was needed to inspect the house to make sure all circuits and wiring were intact and safe to receive power. The last customer to receive power was in 1993, several months after Iniki made landfall.

Twenty-five years after Iniki, the same principle of having the home inspected before electricity can be restored would apply to any community that is impacted by a hurricane. This would also include homes with photovoltaic systems as well as stand-alone photovoltaic systems with battery storage. Re-energizing a damaged home could lead to more problems if the electrical system is not intact.

There is still over a month to go for the 2017 hurricane season, and we’ve been fortunate that Maui has not been impacted by any tropical cyclone this year. But the above information from Hurricane Iniki, along with the current situation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, reminds us of how lifestyles and comforts could change by a swift backhand by Mother Nature. Stay prepared.

* Marc Nishimoto is the public health emergency preparedness planner of the Maui District Health Office of the state Department of Health.

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