One month since Lahaina wildfires: Oct. 8 reopening date set for West Maui, 66 remain unaccounted for
September 8, 2023, 12:15 PM HST
* Updated September 8, 8:07 PM
Governor Josh Green today announced the reopening of West Maui on Oct. 8, as the state tries to balance economic survival, and the need for people to have jobs to help their families as they rebuild and recover.
“Many have asked when it will be the right time to reopen West Maui to visitors. There is no easy answer to this question, but I can say that if we support Maui’s economy and keep our people employed, they will heal faster and continue to afford to live on Maui,” said Gov. Green.
Beginning Oct. 8, all travel restrictions will end and West Maui will be open to visitors again, so people from Hawaiʻi and around the world can resume travel and help it begin to recover economically, according to the governor. “This difficult decision is meant to bring hope for recovery to the families and businesses on Maui that have been so deeply affected in every way by the disaster,” he said.
He confirmed the date today, but floated the plan during a Pathways to Recovery webinar Thursday afternoon, hosted by the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. During that meeting he said the planned reopening comes while “fully recognizing that it wonʻt be open the way it was, and of course recognizing that Lahaina—the impact zone—is going to be in the hands of Bob [Fenton of FEMA] and [his] team to work through.
“No one in Hawai‘i will ever forget the tragedy that our friends, families, loved ones, and colleagues in Lahaina are enduring,” said Daniel Nāho‘opi‘i, Chief Administrative Officer of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. “The response from residents statewide and by people around the world to support Maui’s recovery has been incredible and inspiring. Now is the time for people everywhere to show their support for Maui by booking trips, making restaurant reservations, and frequenting Maui’s retail stores and attractions that support workers and their families.”
The announcement comes one month to the day that the destructive wildfires decimated Lahaina town, damaging or destroying more than 2,200 structures and killing 115 people, with many still unaccounted for.
The governor today said the FBI has reported that 66 people are potentially still unaccounted for based on calls and emails they have received. This number was initially over 3000, and dropped to 385 as of last week.
Since August 16, the American Red Cross, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, and FEMA have relocated over 7,500 displaced survivors from shelters to a total of 29 hotels and hundreds of Airbnbs. 15,931 individuals have filed for FEMA relief.
“We have entered into an agreement with the Red Cross to house our people for a minimum of 36 weeks,” Gov. Green said in his address. “We are also pursuing relationships with large numbers of homeowners who have historically used their properties as short term rentals to convert them into long-term rentals to accommodate displaced residents. Residents may then enter agreements to receive housing through FEMA.”
Gov. Green said he intends to contract with 3 to 5 local hotels able to lease their entire properties long-term for the recovery effort, which serve as an additional housing safety net.
For those who would like to provide housing, the Hawai‘i Housing Finance and Development Corporation has launched the Hawai‘i Fire Relief Housing Program, which identifies available units to those devastated by the Maui Wildfire tragedy. To get involved in this program and help survivors, you can reach HHFDC through [email protected].
Gov. Green said he has authorized $100 million dollars from a special revenue source called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, to support what others donate, “magnifying the power of their generosity.”
The governor also authorized immediate relief to help prevent business bankruptcies. “Working with House and Senate leaders and in partnership with Maui County and the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, we will make $25 million available immediately in the form of $10,000 and $20,000 bridge grants to help businesses all across Maui survive until the economy recovers,” said Gov. Green.
The Maui Economic Opportunity team will help to distribute these grants.
As the Return to Lahaina phase gets underway, Gov. Green provided a timeline for hazardous material and debris removal. “Once the EPA has completed the removal of hazardous materials from the affected areas, which will take 3-4 months, we can begin the removal of the remaining debris. We are in a partnership with FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers in this effort, which will take the better part of a year and over $1B to complete,” he said.
The governor also addressed protection from predatory practices. “I want to emphasize again — the land in Lahaina is reserved for its people as they return and rebuild, and I instructed the Attorney General to impose enhanced criminal penalties, including up to a year in prison, on anyone who tries to take advantage of survivors by the unsolicited acquiring of property in affected areas of Maui.,” he said.
Gov. Green said he has ordered a full investigation of the cause and the emergency response to the Lahaina wildfire.
“We will get answers to exactly what happened and there will be full accountability and transparency to the public,” he said.
Gov. Green said it’s going to be a long process toward rebuilding and healing. “… we are grateful for the love and support coming to Maui from around the country and around the world. Please keep Maui in your hearts and your prayers as we start our long road to recovery,” he said.