Some Lahaina residents return to devastated homes after wildfires: “It’s unrecognizable”

Some Lahaina residents return to devastated homes after wildfires: “It’s unrecognizable”

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A small group of Lahaina residents were allowed to return to what’s left of their homes on Monday, seven weeks after devastating wildfires swept through their historic town and reduced much of it to ashes. For many, the return marked an opportunity to come to terms with the traumatic events that transpired.

Noreen Wales, a Lahaina resident and her granddaughter Tawni Katayama, were overwhelmed when they saw the destruction. 

“It’s pretty bad, after so many years of living here,” Wales said. 

“It’s unrecognizable. It’s hard to process,” Katayama said.

“I just can’t believe it’s gone. It’s heartbreaking, you know, all our memories were here,” Tiara Wales, Katayama’s mother, said.

At least 97 people were confirmed to have died in the Maui wildfires, which destroyed approximately 2,000 buildings — most of them homes. 

Last week, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green called on visitors to return to West Maui, which is home to Lahaina, once it reopens on Oct. 8.

“You will be helping our people heal,” Green told “CBS Mornings.”

However, many residents feel officials should focus more on helping residents.

“There’s not enough support for the people that live here, you know, for the Hawaiians that are here, and I get it. There’s a balance there, we survive on tourism but we should be the priority. You know, we live here. We’ve been here,” said Katayama. 

Rebuilding is a daunting task that officials said will take years to accomplish. And concerns loom over who will lead the recovery efforts. Darryl Oliveira, who assumed the role of interim administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency after Herman Andaya’s resignation in August, confirmed that he will be leaving the position in November. 

When asked about the transition, Oliveira said recruitment for the role should start “as soon as possible.”

“I think as long as we provide for that transition, it should be … smooth and very minimal hiccups or anything for the community,” Oliveira said.

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