Military assisted Kauai’s community 25 years ago in wake of Hurricane Iniki

The amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) Sailors stand at the rails for the final time as they steam through San Diego Harbor completing the ship’s final voyage after 27 years of service as a U.S. Navy ship on July 11, 2005. USS Belleau Wood assisted with relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Iniki, which struck the Hawaiian Islands 25 years ago on Sept. 11, 1992. U.S. Navy file photo

Don Robbins

Editor, Ho‘okele

Hawaii’s most powerful storm ever, Hurricane Iniki, hit the Hawaiian Islands 25 years ago this week, on Sept. 11, 1992.

The Navy’s response to Hurricane Iniki relief efforts was coordinated through Task Force Hawaii, the U.S. Pacific Command joint military response to relief efforts headed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Hawaii State Civil Defense.

As the hurricane reached the islands, the state’s military commands, including the Navy, prepared for the storm and assisted the community in the aftermath.

According to a Navy news release at the time, damage to the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) at Barking Sands on Kauai was light and limited to downed tree limbs and some roofing damage to beach cottages.

Soon after the hurricane, the PMRF commanding officer reported that the base’s runway and operations building were in good shape and aircraft were undamaged, and they started to fly missions in support of civil defense efforts on Kauai.

In the several hours before the hurricane struck Kauai, helicopters and personnel from PMRF participated in search and rescue operations in the ocean near the base.

After the storm passed, the Navy inspected the island of Kauai and provided a joint task force with a complete damage assessment.

Divers from Mobile Diving Salvage Unit One at Pearl Harbor responded to the request for assistance. The divers were transported to Kauai on a Coast Guard buoy tender with their scuba equipment.

The military relief effort for Kauai began when the Army loaded trucks and other equipment for delivery to Kauai on USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3), which was in Pearl Harbor while transiting from San Diego to its new homeport of Sasebo, Japan. Other supplies on Belleau Wood included medical supplies, mobile kitchens, water trailers, excavating equipment, cargo trailers and other relief equipment.

After offloading on Kauai, the 800-foot helicopter carrier Belleau Wood returned to Pearl Harbor to load nearly a million pounds of additional supplies for Kauai. It included two truckloads of Salvation Army relief material and repair materials.

In addition, the Navy amphibious landing ship USS Bristol County (LST 1198) arrived in Hawaii from San Diego for scheduled training. While in Hawaii, the ship supported Hurricane Iniki relief efforts on Kauai.

After Hurricane Iniki recovery operations began, Navy ships lifted nearly two million pounds of military and civilian relief material to Kauai.

In addition, on Sept. 24, 1992, members of the Construction Battalion Unit (CBU) 413 Pearl Harbor swung into action and embarked aboard a C-130 transport for Kauai. The 20 equipment operators, carpenters, mechanics and electricians began their work by repairing a school roof and clearing debris. C. Gregg Petersmeyer, assistant to the president and director of the Office of National Service, wrote a letter to PMRF and the Department of the Navy on Jan. 13, 1993.

“On behalf of President Bush, thank you so much for your good service during and after Hurricane Iniki to help the victims of that devastating storm,” Petersmeyer wrote.

The U.S. Air Force also provided support after Iniki in a variety of ways.

According to the 15th Air Base Wing historical record, 14 people from Hickam’s 15th Medical Group deployed to Kauai from Sept. 13 to 16, 1992 to set up an aeromedical staging facility at Lihue Airport. The facility screened thousands of people waiting to leave the island. During the four days, more than 700 people were processed through the facility before flying out on military aircraft. There were 400 people who were medically evacuated and 130 received treatment for various acute and chronic medical conditions, dehydration, and trauma.

Air Force crews delivered emergency supplies and disaster response teams to Kauai less than a day after the hurricane struck. In the first five days, Air Force and Air National Guard crews from Hawaii, California and Texas delivered nearly 238 tons of equipment and supplies (generators, plastic sheeting, meals ready-to-eat, mobile kitchens, medical supplies) and 587 emergency personnel on 97 flights to the island. Crews transported people wanting to leave the island on the way back from their deliveries rather than returning empty. Hickam’s passenger service specialists worked 12 to 18-hour shifts processing tourists and residents through the base passenger terminal.

Members of the 15th Air Base Wing set up communications to coordinate delivery of supplies, helped move heavy debris off roads and restored power to the island. A member of the 15th Mission Support Squadron established postal service for Air Force troops on the island, and the 15th Weather Squadron tracked weather and incoming aircraft during relief efforts.

In addition, visual information service members documented the extent of the damage.

The 15th Supply Squadron provided more than $90,000 in supplies for relief efforts on Kauai and Guam, and the 15th Contracting Squadron processed 350 orders totaling $500,000 in contracts to support cleanup of Kauai and Guam.

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Category: News