Twenty-five Years Later, Former Kaua‘i Mayor JoAnn Yukimura Remembers ‘Iniki’s Fury

Richard Borreca
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

On the evening of Sept. 10, 1992, the lives of JoAnn Yukimura and the 50,000 people living on Kaua‘i were about to change dramatically.

Just after 6 p.m., Yukimura, the fresh-faced, new, liberal mayor of Kaua‘i, was onstage at the Hawaii Women Lawyers’ annual meeting at the Hawaii Prince Hotel in Honolulu with the state’s two other women county leaders, Linda Lingle from Maui and Lorraine Inouye from the Big Island, when a man approached Yukimura to deliver a message to her.

“It was a call from my administrative assistant, Tom Batey, who said, ‘It looks like it is going to be a direct hit; you have to get home,’” Yukimura recalled in a recent phone interview.

An hour earlier, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center had issued a hurricane watch after the storm’s path had suddenly turned toward Kaua‘i. At 8:30 p.m., the center upgraded its forecast to a hurricane warning.

‘Iniki would turn out to be the strongest and most destructive hurricane ever to hit Hawai‘i, and on that day, it was only hours away from roaring onto Kaua‘i’s south shore.

As Yukimura would say later, for people living on Kaua‘i, everything would be measured in terms of “before ‘Iniki, and after ‘Iniki.”

In the coming weeks, Yukimura, now a Kaua‘i County councilmember, would learn that one of her few breaks as mayor was that she had just hired Tom Batey for the position that is now called “managing director.” Just a month earlier, Batey had completed a 14-year careeer with the Hawai‘i State Civil Defense.

Through Batey’s contacts, Yukimura and several cabinet members who also were on O‘ahu were flown back to Kaua‘i on a Hawai‘i Air National Guard C-130, as the commercial airliners had already shut down due to the hurricane approaching the state.

In a separate telephone interview, Batey, who still resides on Kaua‘i, recalled that while waiting for Yukimura to return, he had begun drafting the reams of reports and requests that would be needed to ask for state and federal storm assistance.

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Richard Borreca is a Honolulu journalist. He has worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, KHVH News Radio, KHON-TV, Honolulu Magazine and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, for whom he now writes a Sunday column.

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