It is 5:00 pm (HST) and category 1 Hurricane Iselle is currently 150 miles east-southeast of Hilo. A hurricane warning was issued yesterday afternoon and although we had hoped that it would be downgraded to either a hurricane watch or a tropical storm warning, here we are, 2-3 hours out from experiencing sustained winds of 80 miles per hour with higher gusts. Meanwhile, Julio is 1155 miles outside of Hilo and a classified category 2 hurricane expected to weaken in the next few days.
Hurricanes are rare for Hilo. We are commonly known for earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, but there is a first time for everything. We did have a close call with Flossie in 2013, but she dissipated before reaching us. Living in Hilo, I had grown complacent about hurricanes being a threat. There is a common belief here that the reason we don’t experience hurricanes is because Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualālai protect us, sheering through hurricanes and sparing us from their effects. Not so in the case of Iselle and I was jolted into reality with the issuance of the hurricane warning.
My husband and I were born and raised on Kauaʻi. We lived through Hurricane ʻIwa in 1982 and he and my family survived Hurricane ʻĪniki in 1992. We know what it’s like to live without electricity and water for days at a time, while the contents and memories of your life before that moment are strewn about by strong wind and destroyed by water damage.
I flew home from college on the first plane allowed to touch down after Hurricane ʻĪniki. In my possession were food and supplies I bought with my meager college budget from Cost-U-Less. Riding through the streets and neighborhood I’d known my whole life, nothing looked familiar. Telephone poles, tree branches, and debris littered the way, homes were either gone or demolished, people looked defeated. Everywhere I’d known was gone or different.
When we pulled up to my house, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The roof of my childhood home had been taken by the wind and all that stood were the four walls. My family tried to salvage what was left, but there was little to pull from the rubble. Thanks to ʻĪniki, I have very few pictures of my childhood. Staying with my family in the following days, I felt more like a burden than a help, as we collected water, cooked on butane stoves, and lived by the meager light of camping lanterns, while we heard the gentle snapping of tarps in the breeze.
It is an experience I will never forget and it continues to inform how we live in a constant state of preparedness, always having food and supplies on hand in the event of an emergency. When the rest of the town is raiding shelves and stockpiling supplies at the mention of a natural disaster, all we do is calmly top off our fuel, buy ice, and begin collecting water. Some people may think it’s no way to live, but it’s second nature for us and we don’t mind. Our families taught us to be vigilant in the face of natural disasters and we have adopted preparedness in gratitude.
Looking back at ʻĪniki and now, hours before Iselle arrives, I am reminded that devastation ushers in new beginnings. When lava flows over land here, wiping out all evidence of what existed before its arrival, it is a fresh start for the land and its occupants. Although we mourn what was and the attachment of the items we lose, nature goes on, we go on. Survival requires every living being to adapt, no matter how physically or emotionally uncomfortable. Modernity allows us to forget how very vulnerable we are. It’s not a bad thing to be reminded of our fragile humanity. Not at all.