Rebuilding Maui Will Be Complex, Require Focused Attention and Lots of Resources

Maui residents will tell you no one there could have imagined a wildfire could cause the scale of devastation that just happened – Lahaina leveled to ash, over 100 dead and still counting, plus billions in damage to buildings and infrastructure. It’s the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. modern history.

There will be so much more investigative findings and information to unpack in the weeks ahead. How many more casualties? How will the sudden houseless find shelter months later? The housing crunch was already a problem before the fires. Will there be problems with home insurance reimbursement? Homeowners must report unfair insurance practices and the government must hold these companies accountable where they exist. How will a halt in tourism impact an island mostly dependent on tourists? We have officials and some local residents asking tourists to stay out of Maui, but you have other Maui residents outside the hot zones saying that they need tourists to continue coming to keep their businesses running. It’s like COVID-19 playing out again.

How many are now unemployed due to the fires? There is the immediate impact of unemployment to those whose businesses burned down, then there will be another wave to come as the economy slows. How will these unemployed be able to pay for their mortgage after the 90-day forbearance period by lenders, which is an extremely short period.  Getting a new job will be challenging if the island’s economic engine collapses and an entire community is in the same desperate situation as you are.

Shelter, employment, food and basic necessities are all the things victims of the fire must contend with as well as dealing with emotional trauma and mental health, and for some physical health.

Rebuilding is another huge question mark. Not just for the residents who lost everything but for state and county government. The building permits process is already slow and backlogged. First and foremost, this needs to change, and the government must hire additional staff to expedite this process. All departments that are involved in continuing crucial operations/services must hire additional workers.

Already there is mounting frustration over the state/county emergency response (which is under investigation). But as time goes on and desperation increases, it’s likely that the level of frustration will rise as well.

Gov. Josh Green faces a monumental task. There will be unfair politicizing of this tragedy as former President Donald Trump did, criticizing the Hawaii governor and suggesting he was busy at the beach and not handling the crisis well.

Hawaii residents must be aware of political opportunism that will play out. There will be those placing blame on government for “everything under the sun” with regards to the Maui wildfires. Recognize those attempts and see them for what they are, opportunism.

Historically, there always are opportunists wanting to gain from crisis. And not just politically. There are reports of unfair land grabs – unscrupulous investors wanting to buy property under market value to take advantage of desperate homeowners. This is illegal and these individuals should be reported to the State Office of Consumer Protection (OCP).

There will be scams and rumors floating around like the latest one casting doubt on FEMA. The rule of thumb should be to get information from reliable sources. People should do their own research, also from reliable sources.

Sadly, there are also reports of individuals in Maui doing their own fundraising via social media and money apps.  Some of them have not been impacted by the fires and are asking for donations for themselves or people who they say need urgent help. The common pitch is that government and charitable channels are too slow, and they are relying on individuals for immediate assistance.

Officials recommend that donations go to reputable charitable organizations such as the Hawaii Red Cross and Hawaii Community Foundation. There are others.

Outpouring of aloha
The one silver lining to this tragedy is the overwhelming response to help Maui. The entire state has come together to provide aid.  Private sector and unions have done collection drives. Our lawmakers did a major collection drive at the State Capitol.

There has been global assistance. South Korea donated $2 million. Billionaires and celebrities have made donations.  Our Hawaii transplant communities on the mainland have stepped up and have done collection drives.

Various Filipino organizations are working on aid projects for Maui. Our Maui Filipino community has been greatly impacted. Close to a whopping 40% of Lahaina is comprised of Filipinos, and Filipinos make up about one-third of the island’s population, the second largest group there based on ethnicity.

Climate impact
Coincidentally before the Maui wildfires, Sens Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren called on the Justice Department to take the fossil fuel industry to court, to sue them for damages because they knew they were heating up the planet from as far back as the 1950s, and instead of sharing the science, they suppressed it.

Weather experts say the fires in Maui spread rapidly because of the strong winds from Hurricane Dora that had speeds as high as 80 mph. Frequency and strength of hurricanes are getting worse due to climate change. Maui’s super dry condition is also in part due to climate change. In this light, the town of Lahaina is one among other communities devastated by climate change. Sanders and Warren’s recommendation to the DOJ is a fair one. For example, who will help to rebuild Maui?  The federal and local government. The fossil fuel industry, largely responsible for climate change, will once again hold no accountability. It’s time that they did. It’s also time that climate change be taken seriously. How many more Lahainas (towns destroyed) will there be around the world if conditions worsen?

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