Governor pledges West Maui’s reopening to tourists won’t displace wildfire evacuees
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor on Thursday pledged next month’s reopening of West Maui to visitors won’t displace thousands of evacuees staying at area hotels.
The reassurance comes after some survivors were told they would have to relocate.
“We don’t think that anyone will be forced to move,” Gov. Josh Green said, in a news conference aimed at offering “progress reports” on wildfire recovery and response.
“People are traumatized. We’re not pushing people out.”
He added, “We are going to do our absolute best to make sure that transition should it need to occur for some families is done in the most comfortable and supportive way.”
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Some 8,000 displaced Lahaina residents are in hotels or other temporary accommodations as the state and nonprofit organizations scramble to provide longer-term housing solutions.
While the governor said he doesn’t want people to move between hotels, he and others acknowledged that might be required in some cases as properties begin to serve tourists.
James Tokioka, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, encouraged hotels to work closely with the state and nonprofits in the weeks ahead.
“We want everyone to know that we do not condone properties that are asking survivors ... to leave without another housing solution in place,” Tokioka said. “We want to make that clear.”
The governor has set Oct. 8 — two months to the day since the Lahaina disaster — as the reopening day for West Maui tourism, but he has stressed that the reboot will be slow. Some have pushed back against the idea of welcoming tourists back as disaster recovery continues.
Lahaina itself remains off limits, though limited numbers of residents will be allowed to return starting Monday so they can survey properties, collect items and seek closure.
Eighteen months of housing assistance remains available from FEMA for evacuees.
Green said while he doesn’t want people to move out of hotels prematurely, he does want to develop “bridge housing” sites that would include more home-like accommodations.
Details of those sites are still being hammered out.
“We’re going to err on the side of protecting our people over tourism,” Green said.
“The next couple of months, we’ll slowly move people into places that are much more comfortable for families.”
Humanitarian group, American Red Cross, which has teamed up with the state and county acknowledges some people may need to move to different hotels and that it can be difficult.
“I can assure that those who will be moving, they will still have the ability to have a hotel room. It may be a in a different location,” said Adam Runkle, American Red Cross, Deputy Red Cross coordinating officer.
State leaders say Maui won’t see a flood of visitors coming back.
“It’s not like people were putting in reservations off the hook. They are trickling in is the word that they used. They also said what’s more concerning is January, February, March,” said Tokioka.
Also on Thursday, the governor said that the state would be releasing more details soon on the planned reconstruction of King Kamehameha III Elementary, which was destroyed in Lahaina.
Meanwhile in Lahaina, EPA crews are continuing to clear out toxic materials zone by zone. The governor said that work is about halfway complete.
The death toll from the blaze stands at 97. Of those, 80 have been officially identified.
This story will be updated.
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