| 23 July 2024, Tuesday |

Maui’s displaced grow anxious as wildfire recovery drags on

A week after wildfire ravaged the resort town of Lahaina, traumatized Maui residents have grown weary from living off relief supplies while many are kept from inspecting their homes and still left awaiting news about their missing loved one.

The inferno killed at least 101 people after racing from grasslands outside town into Lahaina last Tuesday.

The magnitude of the fire, which charred a 5-square-mile (13-square-km) area of town in hours, combined with the logistical challenges of recovery have taken a toll on many of Lahaina’s 13,000 year-round residents, who are also facing the prospect of precious tourist dollars evaporating.

Kiet Ma, a 56-year-old taxi driver who lost his home, said he found the local disaster response disorganized.

“The police, everyone, first responders, they’re all rushing in but not enough manpower, and it’s chaos,” Ma said from his in-laws’ home on the outskirts of Lahaina, where he is staying indefinitely.

Even as donations have poured in and Hawaii and federal officials have promised vast resources to aid in the recovery, Kanamu Balinbin, a local football coach, took matters into his own hands, setting up a relief camp where people who lost their homes and belongings could find water and food.

“I was devastated. I consider myself a strong leader, but it broke me,” Balinbin said about his emotions after witnessing the destruction. “This is what keeps me going, helping people. A lot of us are at that stage.”

He said some of the local frustration stemmed from the longstanding perception that Maui does not receive enough attention from the state government despite its robust tourism revenues.

Mary Kerstulovich, a Maui real estate agent who has sought supplies and housing for evacuees, said there was finally a sense government relief was arriving a full week after the disaster, but she said Lahaina still needed a more effective plan to obtain goods.

“There is still a lot of chaos. People need supplies still,” Kerstulovich said.

  • Reuters