So, I went to Maui to talk with a few folks who needed to process what happened when Lahaina burned. I stayed in South Maui, and it was eerie the first time I drove to the West Side. There are screens up along the bypass, and police spread out along the route to prevent anyone from pulling over and looking down into the burn zone. I hope the screens will also prevent the toxic ash and dust from affecting people. I wore my KN95 mask as I drove through the burn zone, but it still triggered my asthma. When I got near a neighborhood where I once lived, I could see what looked like the aftermath of bombings on both sides of the highway. Burned-out cars, piles of rubble and ash, everything was gray. I am glad that Lahaina Town was blocked off. Seeing it on TV is bad enough.
Too many offolks interacted with lost a loved one or a whole family of loved ones. It was gutwrenching to meet the woman at the car rental place whose little nephew died with his mother and grandparents in one car. Or to find out my friend’s brother, his wife , and child had perished. A young man who had gone to Lahainaluna HS with my grandson. My other friend’s beloved grandmother and so on. I do grief work, and it was
devastating for me. I zoned out in my condo twice with my phone off to recuperate.
While there, I called the Maui Police Department about our tenant, Jean, who had been missing since the fires. I got routed to a woman on Oahu who works for a company contracted to take calls from people searching for the missing. She referred me to the FBI. I had previously sent messages to FEMA, the FBI, and MPD, prompting them to please check our property as a neighbor had seen her at the house. I got the runaround from everyone but the first woman I spoke with. It was so frustrating. Amazingly, a few days later, the police showed up at Jean’s daughter’s home and told her they had found Jean’s remains one week after the fire. For one week short of two months, they were supposedly waiting for test results from a lab on the mainland. How many others have been put through this unnecessary waiting? Jean was found at the exact place where she lived. No one else from the house was reported missing. I think my persistent telephone calls prompted someone to check their records and discover that they dropped the ball and should have notified her daughter weeks ago.
The number of displaced living in the resorts is staggering. There was a massive housing shortage before the fires. Previously unhoused people were cunning enough to show up at the shelters, and then we used the resorts. They are doing drugs, cooking drugs, and acting as if they were still living outside. The poor housekeepers. They should have checked to ensure the shelter folktherere are residents. The governor wants to re-open the island to tourists. It is too soon. There is a big divide between those who lost their homes and those who didn’t. There are arguments about the need to open so we can start earning money again versus those will too grief-stricken to face tourists wanting to hear personal accounts of their experience during the disaster. The level of distrust is palpable. When you get twenty different versions of what’s happening to assist you on top of longstanding anti-government sentiment, how can you trust? The tension is like a shroud of negative energy hovering over the West Side. Guiltily, I feel relieved that I am not living through it but worried about my friends and ‘ohana, who have no choice.
I am returning the first week of January to conduct grief workshops. I am sure they will be needed right after the holidays. It is my meager contribution to my community. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, if you or someone you know is going to the Lahaina side of Maui, please be sensitive and NOT ask about anyone’s personal experience. It sounds weird to tell people that, but I heard reliable sources’ accounts of returning tourists asking front desk clerks and others if their house burned and if anyone they loved died in the fires. Not acceptable! You may feel concerned and think you are showing care, but it won’t be well received. The GM of the Westin Nanea thought it prudent to send three pre-arrival letters to owners with reservations instructing them not to ask the staff at his resort questions about the fires. THREE.
Shout out to the Red Cross and other volunteers who left their homes and families to offer comfort and support to the Mauians affected by the fires.
Please continue to pray for Maui. Pray for me, too. I am strong, but I am tired.