Shelters provide needed supplies, safety for 1,418 people impacted by the Maui wildfires
August 12, 2023, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated August 12, 7:34 AM
On Friday, Maui County reported that 1,418 people, both local residents and visitors, were utilizing the emergency shelters set up in Kahului, Makawao and Wailukui for safe refuge and to get clothes, food and other supplies.
Most of the people were forced to flee West Maui on Tuesday after the wildfire destroyed much of Lahaina. There are also were people seeking refuge from two additional wildfires, one in Pūlehu/Kīhei and the other Kula, that continue to rage.
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On Friday, at Kings Cathedral Church that was serving as an emergency shelter, a Minnesota family spent the night in a van in the parking lot while waiting to return home after a family vacation.
The mother, Tamara, said they watched Lahaina burn from the balcony of their hotel room at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort. While it was scary for her family, she said she was in awe of the resort employees, many of whom showing up the next day to serve them after losing everything.
“They served till the food ran out,” said Tamara’s husband Joe. “The small inconveniences we have are nothing compared to the families and what they lost.”
They left the resort Thursday and went to Kahului Airport looking for an earlier flight home. Instead, an employee at the car rental Alamo offered to rent them a van so they could stay at a shelter instead of sleeping at the airport.
“We feel so fortunate the church was here last night,” Tamara said. “These people are amazing.”
Tamara’s son, Hayden, said the shelter was packed. On Thursday night, volunteers had full meals, boxes to-go and Costco pizza. On Friday morning, they handed out Krispy Kreme Donuts.
The family’s original flight home to Minnesota for Friday night was on schedule. Joe said it’s best for them to get out of the way and let the community rebuild.
Also at Kings Cathedral Church, Lahaina residents Lithe Pokipala-Waiohu and her fiancé Lindsey Pagnini were loading up a large plastic bag into the bed of their silver truck filled with clothing for grandma, diapers and towels.
Pokipala-Waiohu said many people came flocked to their home because it was one of few in the surrounding area still standing.
“No one was prepared,” she said. “People showed up wreaking of smoke and ash on their face.”
The couple tried to hold out leaving their home but were running out of supplies.
“We didn’t see a lot of the destruction till we drove through it,” Pagini said.
Leaving also gave them an opportunity to get an update on the crisis.
“There’s no Internet,” Pagini said. “You’re literally in an apocalyptic state.”
Christina Johnson, who evacuated to the shelter at Maui High School with her mother and two sons, ages 12 and 8, said she walked in on Wednesday with no shoes.
“I hadn’t had underwear since Tuesday,” she said.
She has since been given shoes and clothes. On her first night there she was given a brush and deodorant. She asked for denture glue for her dentures and the volunteers at the staff provided it.
And the donations — primarily food, clothing, bedding, toiletries and feminine products — keep rolling in.
On Friday morning while they were still sleeping in their car in the parking lot, Johnson said a woman came around, tapped on the window and dropped a musubi in her lap.
“We’re overwhelmed by the love and aloha from our neighbors,” Johnson said.
Mikail Honokaupu, of Kula, came to the Kings Cathedral Church to volunteer, saying: “Everybody needs us right now.”
Honokaupu also was under an evacuation order for a wildfire burning in Upcountry when she heard about the Lahaina blaze.
The Kula fire is still burning, but it’s no longer threatening her home. Honokaupu hopes to be there for her West Maui neighbors volunteering throughout the weekend. Her hope is families still in Lahaina will get what they need.
Honokaupu said she’s afraid to go back to Lahaina: “We want to remember it how it was.”
While the devastation is hard to comprehend, the Lahaina community is hopeful to build it back up.
“This community is resilient,” Pagini said. “They just jump into action.”