Maui evacuees worried as wildfire rescue drags on

LAHAINA, Hawaii, Aug 15 (Reuters) – A week after wildfires ravaged the resort town of Lahaina, shocked Maui residents are struggling to deliver relief supplies, while many have been held back from inspecting their homes. .

The inferno has killed at least 106 people as it raced into Lahaina from the prairies outside the city last Tuesday.

The size of the fire, which burned a 5-square-mile (13-square-km) area of ​​the town for hours, combined with the logistical challenges of rescue, has affected many of Lahaina’s 13,000 year-round residents. It also faces the prospect of evaporating precious tourism dollars.

Kiet Ma, a 56-year-old taxi driver who lost his home, said he found the local disaster response disorganized.

“The police, everybody, the first responders, they’re all rushing in, but there’s not enough manpower, it’s chaos,” he said from his in-laws’ home on the outskirts of Lahaina, where he is staying indefinitely.

Even as donations poured in and Hawaiian and federal officials pledged vast resources to aid in the recovery, local football coach Kanamu Balinbin took matters into his own hands and set up a relief camp for people who lost homes and belongings. Find water and food.

“I was devastated. I consider myself a strong leader, but it just broke me,” Balinpin said of his emotions after witnessing the destruction. “That’s what keeps me going, helping people. A lot of us are in that situation.”

He said some of the local frustration stems from a long-standing perception that Maui is not getting enough attention from the state government, despite strong tourism revenue.

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Mary Kerstulovich, a Maui real estate agent who searched for supplies and housing for evacuees, said a week after the disaster there was a feeling that government relief was finally coming.

“There’s still a lot of confusion. People still need supplies,” Gerstulowicz said.

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Keith Dury, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s deputy associate administrator for response and recovery, acknowledged the deep loss felt by survivors, but said FEMA has supplies in Hawaii and is working with state and county officials to provide shelters and relief efforts. .

“After days like this, there are a lot of frustrations and challenges. But we feel we’re in a good position to coordinate with our partners and provide that support,” Duri told reporters.

The fire destroyed or damaged more than 2,200 buildings, 86% of which were residential, and caused an estimated $5.5 billion in damage, officials said.

Adding to local frustration, some residents have been allowed back into Lahaina to visit their properties. Hawaii Governor Josh Green announced Tuesday night that Lahaina residents and employees will be allowed on the highway leading to the city. An earlier relaxation of road closures was soon halted as curious seekers blocked streets used by rescue workers.

Meanwhile, 20 cadaver dogs were working as of Tuesday to search the ash block by block covering 27% of the disaster area, Green said in a televised address.

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The bar chart shows the share of visitor spending in GDP for Moi and Hawaii, which exceeds that of the United States as a whole.

President Joe Biden has said he wants to visit Maui soon, which Green said would be “in the coming weeks” to avoid disrupting recovery efforts.

“He doesn’t want to interfere with the incredibly difficult emotional, physical work that goes on in a disaster zone,” Green said after speaking with the president.

Only three of the dead had been officially identified as of Monday, but stories about the dead have begun to emerge from friends and relatives.

On the fundraising website GoFundMe, relatives of Kevin and Sane Tanaka said Sane’s sister, 7-year-old nephew and parents were found in a burned-out car near their home Thursday morning.

“Words cannot express how devastating this is for the family,” the post said, noting that Tanakas had no time to grieve after taking in more than a dozen displaced relatives.

Another post described how Joe Schilling β€” “Uncle Joe” of his adopted family, the Blues β€” died while helping five elderly people escape from his compound.

“He was called ‘Funkle Joe’ for a reason,” wrote Akiva Blue. “Whether it was trips to go bullet-shell hunting or staying up late when my parents were away, he would sneak us his famous sugary snack, and he was always ready to treat me and my brothers with love and kindness.”

Reporting by Jorge Garcia, Sandra Stojanovic and Mike Blake in Maui; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien, Rich McKay, Andrew Hay, Brad Brooks, Sharon Bernstein, Dan Whitcomb and Niludpal Timsina; By Joseph Ochs and Daniel Tratta; Editing by Lincoln Feist and Stephen Coates

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