Maui wildfire recovery: Hawaii governor insists fire-ravaged Lahaina community will rebuild as search efforts continue


Amid concerns that speculators could seize blighted land, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green insisted Friday that efforts to rebuild Maui’s historic Lahaina community will prioritize the wishes of residents over those of property developers.

“Let me be clear. Lahaina belongs to its people and we are committed to rebuilding and restoring it the way they want it,” Green said in a video statement Friday evening.

The West Maui community — once a vibrant economic and cultural center — was devastated by wildfires that began tearing through the island on Aug. 8. Many of the 114 people killed in the fire were from the area, which saw entire neighborhoods. And irreplaceable historical landmarks reduced to ashes.

First Lady Jaime Kanani joined Gov. Green to express the depth of the community’s loss.

“For generations, Lahaina’s beauty, culture and rich history have drawn artists, musicians and visitors from around the world,” he said. “Unfortunately, it took us less than a day to lose Lahaina to the deadliest fire our nation has seen in over a century.”

The governor’s pledges came hours after Lahaina community members gathered to urge state leaders to include residents in rebuilding efforts after taking time off to grieve.

“The governor’s plan to rebuild the community must be based on the needs of the people, not the interest of developers,” said community member Tiare Lawrence.

Thousands of residents have been displaced — and more than 1,000 are still estimated to be missing, as crews continue to comb through the charred rubble. As of Saturday, 78% of the area has been searched Maui Police Department.

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Meanwhile, the fear of outsiders usurping the plundered lands had already begun to settle. For many local residents and Native Hawaiians, the concerns are historically rooted, and generations of residents can recall being priced out of their family homes.

Satellite images taken June 25 and Aug. 9 show an overview of Lahaina Square and Outlets in Maui County, Hawaii, before and after recent wildfires.

Satellite Image ©2023 Maxar Technologies

Green said the land in Lahaina “is reserved for its people so they can come back and rebuild,” and echoed his pledge to make sure non-residents don’t take advantage of the tragedy as an opportunity to take over local residents’ land.

Hawaii officials have warned residents to be wary of predatory offers to buy their properties. Earlier this week, Green said he asked the attorney general to implement a “moratorium” on property transactions.

The governor estimated Maui faced nearly $6 billion in damages, with more than 2,200 buildings destroyed and another 500 damaged in the fire.

But before the rebuilding process can begin, teams must finish sifting through the charred disaster area and continue to identify victims’ remains so families can be notified.

The governor said he has asked the attorney general to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the disaster as island officials face mounting scrutiny over whether more steps were taken to warn residents as flames wreaked havoc across Maui.

Green said Friday that the review will include the cause of the fire, the response of authorities and how to improve emergency procedures.

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Frustration has grown among many residents as officials offer shifting narratives, including why the island’s disaster alarms were silent, the system broke down or the sirens sent people fleeing toward danger instead of away from it.

Herman Andaya, the head of Maui’s Emergency Management Agency, resigned Thursday — a day after defending the decision not to sound the alarms.

Maui County cited Andaya’s health as the reason for his resignation. No further details about his condition have been released.

On Saturday, Maui firefighters battled several wildfires and largely contained the blaze. District officials say the fire has not spread for several days, and activity has been limited to isolated hot spots within the existing footprint.

Maui County said Saturday that while the cause of the fire remains under investigation, “Fire investigators have determined that the Kula and Olinda fires are separate in origin.”

With the daunting task ahead of rebuilding egalitarian societies, some sports teams continue to contribute to relief efforts.

Twelve professional Los Angeles sports teams have come together to donate $450,000 to Maui fire relief, according to a joint press release Thursday.

“Although California and Hawaii are separated by more than 2,000 miles, the two states are deeply connected to the strong Hawaiian community that calls Southern California home,” the report said.

MLB’s Angels and Dodgers, NFL’s Chargers and Rams, NBA’s Clippers and Lakers, NHL’s Kings and Ducks, NWSL’s Angel City Football Club, MLS’s LA Galaxy and LAFC, and WNBA’s Sparks donate to help America’s “Red CC” should be given. ”

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Elsewhere, the University of Kansas and University of Illinois men’s basketball teams announced Friday that they will play in a charity exhibition game to benefit Maui wildfire relief efforts. The two teams have previously scheduled a fight before changing the event.

Proceeds from the Oct. 29 game in Champaign, Illinois will be donated to the Hawaii Community Foundation, the schools said.

The Maui InvitationalUsually hosted in Lahaina, it has featured on the men’s college basketball schedule since 1984. As a result of the wildfires, it is unclear whether the tournament will go ahead as planned, with tournament organizers saying they are closely monitoring the situation.

“For decades, the Maui Invitational and the city of Lahaina have been very important to college basketball, and our thoughts and prayers go out to that entire community as it recovers from such a tragic event,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “(Illinois coach Brad Underwood) and I discussed how our individual fight could become an exhibition game to raise money to benefit the many victims of the recent devastating fires in Maui.”

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