Kahului Airport busy with tourists leaving; one said Lahaina was like ‘War of the Worlds’

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Travelers departing Kahului Airport on Aug. 9, 2023. Photo: Cammy Clark/Maui Now

As fires raged in Lahaina on Tuesday afternoon, tourist Sarah Adams from California said she tried to flee Ka’anapali.

But after three hours of being stuck in gridlock traffic with thousands of visitors and residents all trying to leave West Maui via Honoapiʻilani Highway, she was turned around by police in the chaos — and had to give up.

She returned to her Airbnb, and on Wednesday morning took a “leap of faith” that she had enough gas and joined a “caravan,” which succeeded in getting out of the devastated area by driving the long way around the West Maui mountains.

Adams was supposed to stay longer in Maui when her fiancé arrived Wednesday. But after what she saw in Lahaina, calling it the “War of the Worlds” after the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie, she said she could not “morally or ethically” stay and be “selfish” taking resources the residents needed.

She saw long lines for the only gas station that appeared open, with a 2- to 3-hour wait at an L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, no cell service, electric outages, trees uprooted, broken utility poles from the wind and devastated people everywhere.


The lack of resources in West Maui is why Hawai’i Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke issued an emergency proclamation on Wednesday that includes discouraging non-essential air travel to Maui “so we can prioritize our scarce resources for Maui residents who desperately need assistance.”

  • Departing travelers at Kahului Airport on Aug. 9, 2023. Photo: Cammy Clark/Maui Now
  • Fausto Allosada Jr. (left) and Shem Kahawaii play at Kahului Airport on Aug. 9, 2023. Photo: Cammy Clark/Maui Now
  • Travelers arrived at Kahului Airport on Aug. 9, 2023. Photo: Cammy Clark/Maui Now
  • Travelers departing Kahului Airport on Aug. 9, 2023. Photo: Cammy Clark/Maui Now
  • Four friends from Quebec had planned to go surfing in Lahaina on Aug. 9, 2023, but instead are catching a flight to Honolulu after fires devastated Lahaina. Photo: Cammy Clark/Maui Now
  • Nima Owliazadah from Iran was a traveler who had to sleep on the grass overnight at Kahului Airport after his flight’s crew was stuck in Lahaina due to the fires. Photo: Cammy Clark/Maui Now
  • Jennifer Cordoba (second to left) and her family had to sleep on the grass at the Kahului Airport on Tuesday night because the flight crew was stuck in Lahaina due to the fires. Photo: Cammy Clark/Maui Now
  • California tourists Tony and Lori Marion are trying to figure out how to get off Maui after their flight was cancelled on Aug. 9, 2023. Photo: Cammy Clark/Maui Now

A group of five young women from Quebec, Canada, were planning to go to Lahaina to surf on Wednesday, but heeded that request and instead were at Kahului Airport to catch a flight to Honolulu. One asked: “Is Honolulu safe.”

Tony and Lori Marion from Bakersfield, Calif., were staying at The Mauian on Napili Bay when the fires struck. They couldn’t see the fires, but they could see the thick black smoke and knew it was very bad.

Lori Marion teared up as she described seeing “devastated residents” on the side of the roads with their cars packed full of their belongings, with come crying.

“The whole thing is a sad situation,” Tony Marion said. “A lot of people lost their homes. A lot lost their businesses. Just a tragedy.”


David Aldrich and his family from Naples, Fla., drove to Lahaina on Tuesday, but only made it as far as the outskirts, at Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop in Olowalu. It was closed with no power. The wind was crazy. And many fire trucks were zooming by.

“We said: ‘Let’s get out of here before it gets worse’,” he said. So they turned around.

A large group of people who were supposed to fly out of Maui on Tuesday night on a Western Airlines flight instead spent the night sleeping on the grass between the departures and baggage claim at the airport because the flight crew was stuck in Lahaina and there were no hotels available.

They had to all move when the sprinklers went off.

“We are just inconvenienced; life is far more bad for the people in Lahaina,” said Canadian tourist Jennifer Cordoba, who was with here husband and two kids. “We were just in Lahaina two days ago and I’m really scared for the residents who won’t have a home to go back to.”


Then there were arriving passengers at Kahului Airport, including German tourists Andreas Schneider, Julia Ferger and their three young children.

They were vacationing on Kauaʻi and only learned about the devastating fires on Maui just before boarding their flight to Kahului. They tried to change their plans, but could not get their luggage off the flight.

“Great timing,” Berger said. “Is Maui safe? Should we leave?”

They were happy to learn that they are staying in two areas that survived the fires: Pāʻia and Kīhei.

At about 11 a.m. the Kahului Airport was eerily quiet when Shem Kahawaii and Fausto Allosada Jr. began to play the melancholy song My Hawaiʻi Nei at the stage at baggage claim.

Allosada said he wasn’t directly affected by the fires, but added: “We all were affected.”

But the duo did plan to play upbeat songs.

“It’s always good to keep spirits up,” Kahawaii said. “Music always helps get people through rough times.”


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