As Maui continues its journey of recovery from the devastating wildfires on August 8, the community is actively engaged in various efforts to rebuild and overcome the challenges posed by the natural disaster. The aftermath of the wildfires has not only tested the resilience of the affected individuals but has also prompted collaborative initiatives to support one another.
At the 22nd Annual Native Hawaiian Convention, a panel discussion featuring mayors from different Hawaiian counties addressed the housing challenges and outlined plans for a sustainable future. Mayor Bissen emphasized the importance of elected officials and leaders being willing to embrace change for the greater good. The mayors discussed the difficulties in creating housing solutions, with Mayor Bissen thanking other mayors for their support during Maui’s time of need.
Housing remains a critical concern in the recovery process. Maui Mayor Richard Bissen acknowledged the pre-existing housing issues on the island, which were further exacerbated by the wildfires. While Maui boasts a substantial housing inventory, challenges related to space, infrastructure, and cost persist. The mayor emphasized the need for collaborative efforts, calling for “voluntary compliance” from the industry to donate rooms or homes to address immediate housing needs.
The destruction caused by the fires has led to fears of a potential land grab, and many working-class residents are uncertain about having a place to live in the long term.
The fires destroyed some of the only low-income housing in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the U.S. local fear of losing their property to land speculators and emphasize the urgency of addressing this issue.Native Hawaiians, who have historically suffered from land displacement, are disproportionately affected by the housing crunch. The destruction caused by the fires has heightened tensions as middle and low-income residents face challenges while nearby vacation rentals and tourist resorts remain unaffected.
In response to the widespread destruction caused by the wildfires, the University of Hawaiʻi Foundation organized its fourth Giving Tuesday online event on November 28. The initiative aimed to unite donors throughout the UH System and beyond to raise funds dedicated to Maui’s recovery. The funds collected are directed towards assisting students, faculty, and staff who lost everything in the fires. The focus extends beyond immediate financial aid to encompass a broader effort, including the preparation of thousands of meals daily for those affected.
The UH Foundation’s commitment to directing 100% of the fundraising efforts towards Maui’s recovery reflects an understanding that the process will be long-term. The island faces multifaceted challenges, ranging from rebuilding infrastructure to addressing environmental concerns. The recovery involves not only physical reconstruction but also supporting individuals and families emotionally and economically.
Starting at 12:01 a.m. on November 28, UH Foundation will open a special online platform at uhfoundation.org/GivingTuesday where donors may give to any fund during the 24-hour Giving Tuesday period. Donors may also call (808) 376-7800 on Oʻahu, or (833) 846-4262 to make a gift by phone.
In a panel discussion during the 22nd Annual Native Hawaiian Convention, residents of West Maui, including Kaipo Kekona, Archie Kalepa, and Keʻeaumoku Kapu, shared their visions for the future of Lahaina in the aftermath of the wildfires. The wildfires were a prominent backdrop in discussions about Lahaina and its road to recovery.
Archie Kalepa, who was away during the wildfires, shared his experiences organizing relief efforts upon returning. He emphasized the intense love for the place that motivated residents to stay and support each other during the crisis. Kalepa expressed the importance of community contributions to a collective vision for Lahaina’s future.
Kaipo Kekona, involved in establishing distribution points during the aftermath, used a sail plan metaphor to describe his vision for Lahaina—a place full of abundance and fruitful future, with community members coming together like the intricate parts of a canoe to accomplish a great task. Kekona envisioned a Lahaina reminiscent of historical abundance, described in testimonials.
Keʻeaumoku Kapu referred to a “reset button” since the wildfires, emphasizing that changes were supposed to come with the creation of a Historical Restoration Preservation Plan for Lahaina in 1961. He saw the devastation as an opportunity to acknowledge the identity and character of the Hawaiian people, pushing for a discussion on returning seized lands and ensuring dignity for the people of Lahaina.
As part of the ongoing recovery, residential restrictions in Zones 7B, 7C, 7D, and 7E were recently lifted on November 20-21. The reentry process requires a vehicle pass, with distribution taking place at specified locations. Maui Bus transportation has been extended during the initial days, offering support to returning residents. Despite progress, a water advisory remains in effect, emphasizing the importance of safety as residents reoccupy their properties.
Maui’s business community is receiving a much-needed boost through the Kōkua for Maui program. Craft fairs and shopping events, organized in collaboration with various entities, are designed to provide essential support to businesses affected by the wildfires. These initiatives serve not only as avenues for economic recovery but also as a testament to the resilience and solidarity of the Maui community during challenging times.
The recovery process is reaching the Upcountry as Kula residents impacted by the wildfires participate in weekly Disaster Recovery Community Update Meetings. These gatherings, held every Thursday at Kula Elementary School, feature presentations from Maui County, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and CNHA representatives. Residents receive information on progress, schedules, and have the opportunity to address common community questions. With live-streaming on the County of Maui Facebook page, these meetings foster transparency and community engagement.
A unique challenge in the recovery process involves the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) processing hundreds of thousands of lithium-ion batteries salvaged from burned electric vehicles and solar power storage systems. The EPA’s meticulous process includes de-energizing these potentially hazardous batteries before shipping them to the mainland for recycling rare metals and safe disposal. This marks the first time the EPA, tasked by FEMA, has undertaken such responsibilities during a disaster response, underscoring the exceptional circumstances presented by the sheer numbers of electric vehicles and solar energy storage systems.
As Maui navigates through the recovery process, the community is actively engaged in shaping its future. From fundraising initiatives to collaborative discussions among mayors and residents, the island is coming together to address immediate needs and lay the foundation for long-term resilience. The challenges are acknowledged, but the collective spirit and determination of the community are driving efforts to build a stronger and more resilient Maui.