Maui wildfire survivor Tom Liu says with FEMA’s help, he will rebuild

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Maui Wildfires Survivor Story Tom Liu. VC: FEMA (8.17.23)

Kula resident Tom Liu was home alone when the Aug. 8 wildfires swept through Upcountry and West Maui, destroying more than 2,200 structures, and killing at least 115 people. Hundreds more remain unaccounted for.

“I could smell some smoke, but it didn’t bother me,” Liu said. “I turned on the news, and they said it was coming from just about maybe two blocks uphill from me… and then I see the police coming down on our driveway from the road. The next thing, he was on the front door, knocking on the door and said, ‘You better get out.'”

Liu asked for some time to pack a few things, but was told he needed to evacuate without delay.


“We were allowed to go back two days later, and it was devastating. There was nothing, nothing, nothing left,” said Liu.

He was among the thousands who sought help through FEMA at “Their sole purpose is to help people like us,” said Liu, who encouraged others who have not already, to do the same. “They’ll help you from typing your name in until the end, which is unbelievable.”

“I’m 82, and ‘Why rebuild?’ It will probably take at least two years, but with FEMA, with SBA and the immediate family—the ʻohana—that’s why I’m going to rebuild,” he said.


To date, nearly 10,000 FEMA assistance registrations have been received, with some $13.6 million in federal housing and individual assistance provided.

To qualify for shelter and financial assistance, you must first register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This can be done at a joint Disaster Recovery Center at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College, Pilina Building in Kahului. You can also call 1-800-621-3362, visit, or apply through the FEMA smartphone app. 

An additional FEMA Disaster Recovery Center opened on Friday at the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center, located at 91 Pukalani St.


Both locations are open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Homeowners and renters may also borrow up to $100,000 from the US Small Business Administration, which provides disaster loans to replace damaged or destroyed personal property such as clothing, furniture, appliances or cars. First, an application must be filed with FEMA, then to SBA. For more information, go to Hawaiʻi wildfires | US Small Business Administration.

Editorʻs Note: A previous story incorrectly stated where Tom Liu lost his home. It was in Kula.

Maui Wildfires Survivors from FEMA Associate Administrator Anne Bink. VC: FEMA (8.18.23)
Small Business Administration (SBA) Maui Wildfire Services. VC: FEMA (8.18.23)

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