After wildfires raged across the area of Lahaina and upcountry Maui—which have taken 111 lives since last week—state and federal officials held a press conference to discuss disaster response efforts, including debris and toxin clean-up, land-grabbing, first aid, and rescue and recovery efforts.
Gov. Josh Green said he feels more heartbroken each day due to having to report the growing number of deceased loved ones. He noted how police and fire departments have a significant force on the ground.
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“They are now up to 30 dogs—that’ll move up to 40. There’s now going to be another 225 relief individuals coming … the capacity is increasing continuously to make sure that we can go to every corner of the disaster site.”
Since officials are continuing to identify the remains of lost loved ones, the state is increasing the capacity of DNA experts, including some from California for support. Although the road to Lahaina has opened up to restore some normalcy for individuals as they travel, the governor pleaded for individuals to only use the road when they need to, not when they want to.
“Please do what you can to limit travel if you don’t need to be out there,” Green said. “It’ll be more efficient for people who do have needs at that time.”
Green also addressed issues about Maui land and land grabbing. He said he will ensure that there will be no transactions of land purchases in Maui that take advantage of locals affected and traumatized by the wildfires, and will have a definite answer by the end of the week on how that will be achieved.
“My intention from start to finish is to make sure that no one is victimized from a land grab—that we do not suffer predation against those who are suffering, so I’ve instructed the attorney general to work toward a moratorium on any transactions.”
Currently, about 2,000 Maui residents are without power, and Green said that power is expected to be restored by the end of the month. The governor recommends individuals experiencing power loss reach out to the Red Cross or the Federal Emergency Management Agency to receive resources and a safe shelter.
Hotels in the area have also made 1,000 rooms available for individuals who have been displaced, are working on response efforts, or coming in to rebuild.
“We also have over 1,000 Airbnbs that are going to be available, and we’re making plans right now for the long haul, for the long reconstruction,” Green said.
Richard Bissen, Maui County Mayor, said he’s visited some of the emergency shelters and has seen the devastation firsthand. He added that 682 community volunteers—all Maui residents—banded together to provide assistance to their neighbors, and that he is grateful for those volunteers.
“We know the community wants us to move quicker, and we’ll continue to get better at what we’re doing, and again, sending more volunteers and more workers to the west side. Our people have gone through so much in this tragedy. To offer relief to those whose homes were destroyed, I’m authorizing waiving property taxes for this year, and that includes structures as well as land. The taxes that have already been paid will be refunded to those families.”
According to officials, 38 percent of the disaster zone has been searched, and dust screens will be put up in impacted areas to block dust and debris with the winds. Brad Kieserman, vice president of disaster operations for the Red Cross, explained how his organization has been involved with every major disaster in the United States for as long as the Red Cross has existed. He added that he has personally been involved with every major disaster in the country over the past decade and that the crisis in Maui is unprecedented.
“The response from the state of Hawaii and Maui County has been equally unprecedented in its quality, its sensitivity, its compassion, and its care for its citizens.”
The overarching goal of the Red Cross is to prevent and alleviate human suffering during disasters. He is glad that many survivors have been placed in hotel rooms, instead of congregate shelters with little to no privacy due to the trauma the survivors have lived through.
Survivors in hotel rooms will receive disaster health and mental health services, as well as culturally appropriate spiritual care. Due to the availability of the hotel rooms, Kieserman said financial assistance can be quadrupled to provide assistance for survivors outside of temporary housing. Housing solutions still need to be developed, and it’s crucial for survivors to receive all the care that they need.
The community response team of Maui Health—community hospitals affiliated with Kaiser Permanente—are providing first aid, wound care, health and wellness checks, and pharmacy services without required appointments. The Maui Memorial Center has been treating burn injuries, smoke inhalation, and other fire-related injuries. The center has transported several patients to the island of Oahu for specialty services, including for fire-related injuries.
“Nearly 30 Maui Health personnel have been impacted by the wildfires with 28 suffering a complete loss of their homes and the numbers continue to rise,” stated Maui Health. “Many families were forced to evacuate with no time to gather their essentials and others have no home to go back to.”
The hospital system is accepting donations for their Maui Health Foundation’s Employee Assistance Fund, with all proceeds to go directly towards impacted staff. Maui Health also has an Employee Assistance Program that provides free counseling for employees and their dependents.
“We know our people need help, and they need it now,” said Melinda Sweany, chief development officer for Maui Health, in a press release. “Our selfless caregivers are now facing the daunting task of beginning to rebuild their lives and we hope to at least be able to provide them a starting point with this financial assistance. Every little bit will help.”
According to Maui Health’s chief operations officer, Wade Ebersole, the facilities are operating with ample capacity, such as bed space, staff levels, and supply resources. Ebersole said those capacities can be further expanded if there becomes a surge in patients, and that community members should not hesitate to seek care.
The Maui District Health Office recently announced the opening of a coordinated health clinic in west Maui on Monday, which will assist those directly impacted by wildfires. The facility will be open seven days per week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and clinic services include general wound care and first aid, pharmacy services, mental health services, and other general care. Insurance and appointments are not required.