Well, we dodged another bullet.
When the first cautionary reports of Hurricane Douglas spread over broadcast and social media last Thursday, some of us old-timers worried that our 40-year lucky streak might be broken. Through Iwa (1982), Iniki (1992), and dozens more, Maui County has been spared the brunt of these tropical cyclones. But each time one approaches, we can’t help feeling a bit uneasy while our kids (and folks who’ve lived here 30 years or less) scoff, “Maui never gets hit by hurricanes!”
The kona storm that slammed the Valley Isle in January 1980 didn’t even have a name, but it left a $16 million mark. The Maui News reported winds of 106 mph in Lahaina and 75 mph in Haiku. One man lost his life when his house collapsed; another when his car was swept into the sea. Roofs were ripped off homes and businesses, roads were blocked by fallen trees, as many as 30 boats were destroyed. The no-name, nonhurricane storm left parts of Maui without power for up to two weeks (and now you know why a 14-day emergency supply of essentials doesn’t seem unreasonable to those of us with long memories).
Nearly three years later, in November 1982, I was working as a reporter for KHVH Newsradio in Honolulu. When we received the first alert of Hurricane Iwa, we scoffed, “We don’t have hurricanes in Hawaii!”
News Director Don Robbs corrected us. “Yes, we do. It’s just been a while.” He gave us a quick history lesson on Hurricane Dot, a Category 1 storm which passed over the Garden Isle on Aug. 6, 1959. “We have to take this seriously,” Don admonished us.
Our entire staff — six reporters, two anchors, an engineer and our bosses — worked throughout the day and night. Fortunately, I had a friend visiting from Maui that week, so she and her boyfriend babysat my 5-year-old son in our Makiki apartment. Every time I had a spare minute, I called to check on Jimmy and reassure him that Mommy would be home soon.
The KHVH office and studios were on Bishop Street, in the heart of downtown Honolulu. Sent to cover a Civil Defense briefing, I walked several blocks to City Hall with my recording equipment slung over my shoulder. The news conference lasted less than an hour, but in that brief time, Iwa had kicked up her game by a few notches.
As I pushed the door open and stepped out of the municipal building, a mighty gust of wind swept me up, lifting both my feet off the sidewalk at once. For a second or two, I was literally walking on air. I’m pretty sure my heavy equipment bag saved me from being blown away or tossed into a tree. Trudging into the wind, head down, I made it back to the radio station without further incident.
The next morning, Jimmy presented me with his drawing of the hurricane. Three smiling stick figures stood next to a giant “X” within a rectangle. Black swirls and several unidentifiable shapes hovered above and around the figures. I quickly realized that the rectangle was the sliding glass door on which my friends had placed masking tape, but I had to ask about the floating shapes. “Are those things being blown around by the wind?” I asked, silently wondering, “like Mommy?”
He laughed, “No, those are my toys!” My friend explained that her boyfriend had used his juggling skills to distract Jimmy from the howling wind and rain. “The hurricane was fun!” exclaimed my little boy.
Of course, now that hurricanes have become regular seasonal events, we’ve learned that they’re not fun at all, even when they lose steam and arrive as mere whimpers. Preparing for potential disaster is stressful but necessary.
This time around, as Douglas approached, it was Jimmy’s turn to check on me, texting every couple of hours from his Michigan home. As it became clear that Maui would again be spared, our conversations took a lighter tone. He remembered my account of being lifted by the wind, but not his own artistic rendition of Iwa.
I still have that drawing, stored somewhere in my boxes of photos and mementos. I started looking for it Sunday while sheltered at home. Hopefully, I’ll find it before the next severe weather alert, so I can laminate it and add it to my hurricane preparedness kit. Because when our lucky streak finally ends, sweet memories and smiles will be among my survival essentials.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.