A silver lining amid the chaos of Hurricane Iniki


HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – 30 years ago, Hawaii was hit by the most destructive hurricane in recorded history.

Iniki surprised many people on September 11, 1992.

The Category 4 storm was expected to pass south of Kauai, but made a sharp turn north.

Memories of Hurricane Iniki are not only vivid for locals who experienced it, but also for those who provided relief after the disaster.

No one was really ready for Hurricane Iniki, but the Salvation Army was there to serve when the storm hit.

We learn from a couple who lived through destruction and recovery — and also found love.

In 1992, the south side of Kauai was at ground zero.


Captain Phil Lum was in charge of the Salvation Army unit in Koloa. He staffed the Koloa Community Center shelter, which was mostly filled with tourists, and watched Iniki tear the neighborhood apart.

“You could hear tree branches breaking,” Lum recalled. “And then there’s a huge power pole just outside of that, and when that thing snapped in half…it was a horrible noise.”

Lum said an old house just across the street had its roof blown off by high winds. The only thing left standing was a concrete slab and a refrigerator.

“It was just a very scary experience.”

Lum also experienced the eerie calm when the Eye of the Storm passed.

“And everyone breathed a sigh of relief, the first being that we’re still alive and the building was still intact,” Lum said. “And then it started slowly again. And the winds came in the opposite direction. What had already loosened before, it kind of completely crumbled.

Salvation Army relief efforts began immediately – even quicker with the help of director Steven Spielberg who was in Kauai at the time, filming the original Jurassic Park movie.

At the time, none of the commercial planes were flying, and Spielberg’s film crew allowed the Salvation Army disaster crew to use their plane.

When commercial flights resumed, Debbie Navarro was among thousands who came to Kauai to help, flying to Lihue to be with her parents who were also Salvation Army officers.

Navarro recalled the aftermath of the hurricane.

“A small tent where long lines of people lined up to make sure they could get water, ice, rice and whatever food was provided, canned food I remember,” remembers Navaro. “What a view it was.”

During the intense relief efforts, Debbie and Phil met and fell in love.

“Both have a calling to serve, he was already serving, but I was on my journey to becoming an officer. So that was it,” Navarro said.

“The kind of hurricane blew us together,” Lum said. “And so we felt very lucky that there was a silver lining to everything.”

The Lums have been married for 25 years and have two adult children.

9-11 Lum Wedding Portrait(Courtesy of Phil Lum)

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