Chickens and Dirt: How Hurricane Iniki Produced One Kauai Icon and Exploited Another

Few would argue Hurricane Iniki was nothing less than a horrible natural disaster. It struck mainly the island of Kauai in the summer of 1992, leaving behind a path of destruction and caused almost $2 billion in damage. It was the most powerful storm ever to hit the Hawaiian Islands in recorded history, becoming a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds up to 145 mph.

Iniki also inadvertently affected Kauai in two interesting ways.

The Garden Isle is known for its reddish earth. The iron oxide in it literally rusts from the prodigious rainfall that typically befalls Kauai. The soil is responsible for giving Waimea Canyon its distinctive color. In fact, waimea in Hawaiian means ‘reddish water.’

waimea canyon

The rust can perniciously and permanently stain furniture and carpeting. For that very reason, the townhome where we were staying asked guests to remove their shoes before entering. The soil can also tarnish clothing, as a silk screen company discovered when its inventory of white T-shirts was ruined by Iniki. But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Shrugging its shoulders, the company decided to use the red dirt as a dye. The shirts became an instant success, the company now called Red Dirt Shirts. Would you believe that one bucket of dirt is enough to ‘stain’ 500 shirts?

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Visitors will see these shirts all over Kauai.

That’s not all they’ll see. Strange as it seems, there are wild roosters and hens all over the place—yes, feral chickens. Brightly colored, they make you wonder where they came from. When Iniki laid waste to Kauai, it tore apart the island’s chicken coops and loosed the birds into the wild. They’ve been proliferating ever since, now numbering in the thousands. Generally, islanders ignore them though some regard them as pests. Others have suggested that the chicken be Kauai’s ‘official’ bird. If nothing else, they feast on Kauai’s giant centipedes about whose sting famous island tour book author Andrew Doughty writes in The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: “You won’t die (but might wish you had.)”

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