Maui Residents Divided Over Planned Oct. 8 Reopening

Maui Residents Divided Over Planned Oct. 8 Reopening
The shells of burned houses and other buildings are left after wildfires driven by high winds burned across most of the town in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, on Aug. 11, 2023. (Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources/Handout via Reuters)
Matthew Lysiak

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.”

Many residents have voiced concerns that the Oct. 8 reopening, when all travel restrictions will end and West Maui will once again be open to visitors, is premature. The reopening has raised concerns among some in the community over what will happen to the large number of residents who have been displaced by the fire, and a petition to delay the opening has already gathered more than 6,500 signatures.

“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.”

Jordan Ruidas, a resident and community organizer who created the petition, told ABC News, "With it being exactly two months after the tragic fires ... it seemed like a slap in the face honestly."

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.

Nearly 8,000 people are staying at 40 hotels across Maui under the Red Cross’s sheltering program, according to the Maui News. The “safe harbor” period, during which eligibility requirements for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance do not apply, ends on Sept. 29. The Red Cross still has yet to announce a decision on what will happen next to the survivors. Many children are still being bused to schools outside of West Maui, with hopes that schools will reopen on Oct. 13, according to Maui County.

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.”

Matthew Lysiak is a nationally recognized journalist and author of “Newtown” (Simon and Schuster), “Breakthrough” (Harper Collins), and “The Drudge Revolution.” The story of his family is the subject of the series “Home Before Dark” which premiered April 3 on Apple TV Plus.
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