A debate rages over Maui's planned Oct. 8 reopening to tourism, two months after historic wildfires destroyed much of the area, as efforts intensify to keep the island’s economy afloat even as many mourning residents say it’s too soon.
“Our community is definitely divided,” Mika, a manager at Second Wind Surf Sail Surf and Kite in Maui, told The Epoch Times. “There are a lot of people still in mourning and others worried that they are going to lose their temporary housing. It is still difficult.
“There is a lot of confusion, and people aren’t getting the clear answers they need.”
“These working-class families, who are the backbone of our community, many of whom also work in the tourism industry, are struggling to find shelter, provide for their children's education, and cope with emotional trauma,” the petition reads. “We firmly believe that before any reopening takes place, it is imperative to consult with and prioritize the needs of these working-class Lahaina residents. Delaying the reopening will allow for a more comprehensive and inclusive approach that takes into account the welfare and well-being of all West Maui residents and visitors alike.”
The petition is directed at Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, who says that allowing people to resume travel will help the island begin to recover economically.
“This difficult decision is meant to bring hope for recovery to the families and businesses on Maui that have been so deeply affected in every way by the disaster,” Mr. Green told reporters on Sept. 8, exactly one month after the fires.
Earlier this week, Mr. Green tried to calm fears, assuring the public that the residents who are currently in shelter programs won't be turned away to make room for tourists.
“We’re not pushing people out, and if anyone does get displaced or it’s suggested they’re going to get displaced—the Red Cross or our office or others will intervene directly to make sure they have a roof over their head,” Mr. Green said during a news conference on Sept. 21.
“I don’t want people to be confused; we will still continue to care for them.”
The fires began spreading on Aug. 8, nearly destroying the historic town of Lahaina, a tourist hot spot located in Maui. At least 97 people were killed in what would become one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history. More than 100 businesses in Lahaina were destroyed, and the entire surrounding area suffered as the number of tourists—and the economy—plummeted.
Mr. Mika said that although he understands the concerns of those hesitant to reopen too soon, if something doesn’t change, the businesses that do remain won’t be able to survive.
“A huge portion of our business is tourism,” Mr. Mika said. “If it doesn't get back on track by Thanksgiving and Christmas, it's going to be dire.
“Come to Maui; we need your support. Just be respectful.”