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Community aloha for Kauai overcame the force of Iniki

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Uncle Herman had heard that someone, a Tongan guy if he wasn’t mistaken, wanted to fly over to help rebuild homes.

Great, Herman Paleka thought, we could use the help.

The guy’s family had been saving up all year for Christmas, but now they wanted him to use the money to buy a ticket to Kauai to help out all those poor folks who had suffered losses due to Hurricane Iniki.

Isn’t that something?

And there was enough money left over for the guy to bring over a little something to feed the volunteers, too.

Heck of a guy.

And all of a sudden, there was the guy — with a 300-pound pig.

"There were so many stories like that," Paleka says, laughing. "People really came together to help each other."

It’s been more than 21 years since Iniki tore through Kauai, blowing the roofs off homes in Paleka’s Ana­hola neighborhood. Paleka, 75, sometimes thinks about the destruction and devastation the skies wrought that day. He spends much more time reflecting on the great humanity that was demonstrated in the aftermath and acting on the faith that those long, difficult days for him affirmed.

Paleka spent his early years on Molo­kai, graduated from Lahainaluna High School on Maui and earned a bachelor’s degree and professional teaching certificate from Church College of Hawaii (now Brigham Young University-Hawaii).

After teaching on Oahu for two years, Paleka moved to Kauai, where he spent 29 years as a teacher at Kapaa Elementary.

When news of Iniki’s impending arrival broke, Paleka drew from his experience with the 1982 Hurricane Iwa to warn his neighbors to evacuate their homes and to mobilize the members of his church.

Paleka, his family and a few other families huddled in his Kapaa Elementary classroom during the storm. As soon as the skies cleared, he and another neighbor whose home was spared serious damage opened their properties for those less fortunate.

Over the coming weeks they met with neighbors to assess their needs, worked with agencies to identify available funding and set out to rebuild their community.

An old Church College classmate on Maui arranged for volunteers to come out every weekend to help repair damaged homes. Groups from Maui, Oahu and Molo­kai followed. Within months Paleka and his fellow volunteers had rebuilt 14 homes in Ana­hola, Kapaa and Lihue.

Paleka recently met with a team of disaster preparedness experts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local Civil Defense representatives to share his reflections on the Iniki experience.

Paleka knows it’s a matter of when, not if, another hurricane will come his way.

In the meantime he and friends from church visit with elderly neighbors, clean homes, mow lawns, do anything they can to keep the community spirit alive.

"It’s how we survive," he says.

Reach Michael Tsai at

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