(KRON) — Parts of Hawaii devastated by the wildfires two months ago have re-opened for tourists. Hawaii’s governor says tourism is important to avoid massive unemployment rates, but displaced residents in West Maui say it’s too soon.
Nearly 17,000 people have signed a petition to try to delay the re-opening of West Maui, especially in Lahaina where the wildfire did the most devastation. Families in West Maui have spent the last two months sifting through ash and picking up the pieces after a wildfire burned more than 2,000 acres and killed at least 97 people.
Lahaina resident De Andre Makakoa is one of the thousands whose home was destroyed in the flames.
“More so than the difficulty of losing all of your physical possessions losing your home, car is the memories,” Makakoa said.
Makakoa signed the Lahaina Strong petition urging Hawaii’s governor to delay re-opening West Maui to visitors. He was recently able to secure permanent housing, but he’s worried about his relatives still reliant on relief hotels, two weeks after Hawaii’s governor re-opened west Maui to visitors.
“The Red Cross only operates in a select amount of hotels, but all the hotels and condominiums that the Red Cross wasn’t operating in, they don’t have protection, so now that tourism has opened back up everybody is getting evicted out of there,” he said.
We asked Ilihia Gionson with the Hawaii Tourism Authority about those evictions. He’s only heard about displaced residents getting kicked out of private condos that were offered as shelter by their owners.
“But those folks are being re-accommodated in other places and again this is all temporary as the state and county leadership works towards permanent housing solutions for these displaced residents,” said Gionson.
Reopening West Maui to tourism will involve a phased approach with phase one being communities north of Lahaina.
“Kapalua and Kahana,” said Gionson.
Gionson says the timing of phases two and three will be dependent on the success of the first phase, but that all three will be essential to making sure residents can afford to live on the island they love.
Ilihia Gionson, Public Affairs Officer Hawaii Tourism Authority
“For those people who are ready to come back to work we want to make sure those opportunities are there for them,” said Gionson.
Both Gionson and Makakoa say Lahaina will be rebuilt on local’s terms without outside influence. Makakoa says that rebuilding will take years–not months.