Returning Lahaina residents are struggling with housing problems after America’s deadliest wildfire in more than a century
The long process of recovery from the wildfires in Maui that have killed 93 people was underway Sunday as some residents returned to Lahaina and Many struggled to find a place to stay.
“We’re short on housing here,” Mike Cicino told CNN. His family resides in Kihei after a fire at his home in Lahaina forced him to take refuge on the seawall for 12 hours. “We just had one nightmare, and we’re about to go through another nightmare trying, basically, not to be homeless.”
Hawaii officials emphasized in their press briefings that the island is not closed to tourists – particularly the eastern side, which has not been affected by the wildfires. That effectively forces West Maui’s evacuees to compete with visitors to the island for housing, Seishino said.
“I hate to say it, but I think they should hold back a little bit the people who come to visit because we don’t have any places to stay,” he said. “They’re going to need these hotel rooms.”
At one checkpoint on the two-lane road around Lahaina, law enforcement officers working 12-hour shifts were checking IDs to ensure only suitable people could continue on the road.
like Crews continue to work to determine 93 dead, the death toll is expected to rise. Maui wildfires are the deadliest in the United States in more than 100 years, according to research from National Fire Protection Association.
“This is the biggest natural disaster we’ve ever seen,” Hawaii Governor Josh Green said at a news conference Saturday night. “It will also be a natural disaster from which it will take a long time to recover.”
Here are the latest:
Identifying victims: He added that only two of the victims had been identified Maui County Officials and authorities expect the death toll to rise. Only 3% of the fire area has been searched using cadaver dogs, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said, adding, “None of us know how big it is yet.” He urged those who have lost family members to contact the authorities to coordinate nucleic acid testing to assist in the identification process.
Thousands of displaced: It is estimated that the fires have displaced thousands of people, FEMA Administrator Dean Creswell told CNN Thursday. According to the statement, 1,418 people are in emergency evacuation shelters Maui County officials. Green said Saturday that about 2,200 structures — about 86% of them residential — were destroyed or damaged in western Maui.
Fire containment: Firefighters have made some progress in their battles against the three biggest wildfires. The deadly fire in hard-hit Lahaina has not increased, but it is still not fully under control, said Brad Ventura, the Maui County Fire Chief. The Pulehu Fire — located farther east in Kihei — was declared 100% contained on Saturday, according to Maui County officials, while a third inferno in the hills of Maui’s Central Upcountry was 50% contained on Friday.
• Return of cell phone services: While the fires initially disrupted communications and made it difficult for residents to call 911 or update loved ones, county officials said Friday that cell phone services are becoming available. People are still advised to limit calls.
• Maui sirens are not activated: State records show sirens for Maui It is not activatedEmergency communications with the population were largely limited to mobile phones and transmitters at a time when most electricity and cellular services were already cut off.
• Disaster response under reviewHawaii Attorney General Ann Lopez’s office said Friday that the Hawaii attorney general will lead a comprehensive review of officials’ response to the catastrophic wildfire. “My department is committed to understanding the decisions made before and during the wildfires and to sharing the results of this review with the public,” Lopez said in a statement.
A longtime Maui resident told Mike Valerio Sunday that she lost a friend who tried to save her pets.
Susan Slobodnjak said she lives outside the devastated city of Lahaina and was unaware of the fury of the fire as it approached.
They were stuck in their home without electricity or water. She said, “I had no idea what was going on only two miles down the road, and we have no information.”
Slobodnjak, who has lived on the island for 31 years, said she drove through the popular tourist town on Friday.
“It’s all gone.” She said.
As searches continue through the burning ruins, officials warn they don’t know exactly how many people there are Still missing in the burned areas.
“We are in a period of mourning and loss as we search for more people who are still missing,” Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat who toured the devastation, told CNN Sunday, adding that Hawaii is in “shock.”
While FEMA said earlier Saturday that it was too early to allocate a rough dollar amount for the damage to Maui, the governor estimated that “losses are close to $6 billion.”
“The destruction is so complete that you see the metal twisted in ways you can’t imagine,” said Green. “And you don’t see any remaining organic structures at all.”
“We come to this like Ohana”
More than a dozen federal agencies have been deployed to Hawaii to assist in the recovery effort, including the National Guard, FEMA, and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Local sites and attractions dedicated to summer revelers are now on the front lines of relief efforts: Pacific Whale Foundation, which usually runs ecotours through Maui, instead uses its ship to ferry supplies such as batteries, flashlights, water, food and diapers to people in need. And at Lahaina Gate and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Kapalua, food and water distribution sites have been set up, according to Green.
On Saturday, the governor said thousands of pounds of food had been donated and on the way.
“We come into this as an ohana (family) because, in the short term, it will be heartbreaking. In the long term, people will need mental health care services. In the very long term, we are going to build back together,” Green said.
Officials announced Saturday that the Hawaii Department of Transportation will allocate a runway at Kahului Airport — the main airport on Maui — to accommodate incoming relief supplies.
For those who have lost their homes, the governor said, at least 1,000 rooms have been secured for them as well as support staff.
Then after that, in the following days, we’ll have long-term leases. “These are the short-term rentals that have now turned into long-term,” Green said.
Sen. Hirono echoed that, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that she believes “the recovery is going to be long” and that the state will need a lot of resources.
She said, “I visited a[shelter]where about 400 residents were sleeping on cots.” “We will need to provide them with both short-term and long-term housing.”
Meanwhile, tourism authorities are focused on helping visitors get off Maui, relieving pressure on residents and traffic, so that “attention and resources” can be focused on the island’s recovery, Hawaii Tourism Authority spokesperson Elieh Gionson said Saturday.
A Native Hawaiian, Gionson said the residents would draw strength from the deep history of Lahaina — the former capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii — and the “very strong spirits of Maui.”
“It’s really in the families and in the hearts of the Kama’aina, the people of those places, those kinds of stories, those kinds of histories live on,” he told CNN. “So, our hearts, our prayers, all of our Aloha are with those families who have lost loved ones, who have lost their homes, who have lost businesses, livelihoods, lifestyles — it is devastating.”
Close roads to the main highway to Lahaina
Residents hoping to take the Honwapelani Highway north to devastated Lahaina were met with frustration Saturday when they were turned away after hours of waiting by authorities, who opened the main thoroughfare only to later close it, due to traffic and hazardous conditions.
Some residents slept in a long line of cars all night, hoping to enter Lahaina from the south by morning. Among them were Steven and Julieta Dyker, who said they were about to reach the main checkpoint after hours of waiting when they learned they were going to turn around.
“They couldn’t have told us it was three miles away, or they couldn’t have been on loudspeakers or on the radio?” Stephen asked.
“It’s not just frustrating. It’s a sickening feeling,” Julieta added.
Officials say they have to restrict access because conditions remain perilous as homes have been flattened by fires.
“We’re not doing anybody any favors by letting them get back in there quickly, just for them to get sick,” Mayor Richard Besen Jr. said at a news conference Saturday.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Maui Police He said West Maui residents can access Lahaina from the island’s north side, via Kahakolua.
While many families seek loved ones, Tim “TK” Williams Sr.’s family was relieved to hear from his 66-year-old grandfather after about four days of no contact.
Brittany Talley previously told CNN her family hasn’t heard from her grandfather since Wednesday, when he shared a photo of the fire and told the family he was evacuating.
Tali said that changed on Saturday when her grandfather, who uses a wheelchair with forearm crutches, was able to text her mother to let the family know he was safe.
“Thousands of people are going through the worst moment of their lives right now,” Talley said, “so receiving a text message was a small gesture, but a huge blessing for my entire family.”
CNN’s Michelle Watson, Cole Higgins, Sarah Smart, Rebecca Reese, Paul B. Murphy and Haley Pritzky contributed to this report.
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