Rebuilding Maui after deadly wildfires could cost more than $5 billion, officials project

Rebuilding Maui after deadly wildfires could cost more than $5 billion, officials project

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Rebuilding on the Hawaiian island of Maui following this week’s devastating wildfires — which have left at least 93 people dead and countless more missing — could cost more $5.5 billion, officials forecasted Saturday.

At least 2,207 structures were estimated to have been damaged or destroyed in the wildfires, according to preliminary numbers released by the University of Hawaii’s Pacific Disaster Center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Of those, 86% were believed to be residential and 9% commercial.

The research center projected that the fires left $5.52 billion of “capital exposed,” which is defined as the “estimated cost to rebuild.”

Furthermore, an estimated 4,500 residents will need ongoing emergency shelter during this process, the research center said.

Lahaina fires
Destroyed buildings and homes are pictured in the aftermath of a wildfire in the city of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui on Aug. 11, 2023. 

PAULA RAMON/AFP via Getty Images


The vast majority of the devastation has been centered around the historic city of Lahaina. Hawaii Gov. Josh Green previously estimated that about 80% of the city was destroyed in the Lahaina fire, the most devastating of three large wildfires which broke out on the island Tuesday, and have torched an estimated 3.39 square miles. The Lahaina fire was about 85% contained, Maui County officials reported late Friday.

According to the Maui Economic Development Board, about 80% of the island’s economy is dependent on the tourism industry. Per numbers from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Maui alone had 1.49 million visitors between January to June of this year.

Lahaina was a magnet for tourists, who served as the economic lifeblood of this once thriving town, which now mostly lies in ruins.


Lahaina residents return home to survey devastation

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“There’s no real jobs around anymore, you know, around town or anything,” Lahaina resident Greg Knickerbocker told APTN News. “And now the bakery where I worked is burned down.”

Kila Zuttermeister returned to Lahaina to find his family’s home still standing but surrounded by entire neighborhoods reduced to ash.
 
“The whole town is just, it’s not the same, it’s not even here,” Zuttermeister said.

Since the wildfires erupted, Maui’s Kahului Airport has been crowded with thousands of tourists attempting to fly out.

Julie Brasil of California told CBS News that she and her family have taken trips to Maui for more than three decades. However, her latest trip this week ended in an evacuation that lasted 30 hours in a small rental car.

“There’s this long line of cars and I’m like, ‘Am I gonna get outta here? What’s gonna happen?'” Brasil told CBS News.

LaTanya Parker had previously honeymooned in Maui, and returned last week for her anniversary, but said she had no plans to return “any time soon.”

“You know, Hawaii is beautiful, but this was a very traumatic experience,” Parker said.

The cause of the fires remains unknown. As the Lahaina fire broke out Tuesday, it was accompanied by chaos and confusion. Emergency sirens weren’t activated on the island. Resident also said the power was cut off, which gave them no access to television or radio. They also said they received no text alerts. Those in town only fled when the flames were on their heels.

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez announced Friday that her agency would conduct a “comprehensive review of critical decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during, and after the wildfires.”  

— Jonathan Vigliotti and Carter Evans contributed to this report.

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