‘We need this day’: First group of residents makes emotional return to fire-ravaged Lahaina

They’re being allowed back in phases in what’s expected to be a lengthy process.
Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 4:12 AM HST|Updated: Sep. 26, 2023 at 9:46 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After more than six weeks of waiting and wondering what’s left, Lahaina families are slowly being allowed back to their properties as part of a re-entry program.

They’re being allowed back in phases in what’s expected to be a lengthy process.

“This is the first time I’m going to see it. It’s pretty bad,” said Noreen Wales, one of the residents who return to Lahaina on Monday. “After so many years living here, it’s just it’s so sad.”

Tawni Katayama, Wales’ granddaughter, added that residents “need this day.”

“I think we need a little bit of not just closure, but it’s it’s so unreal to see,” she said.

“We really need to just see. We need to see it in person.”

This first residents allowed back to their properties are in Zone 1C.

That’s mostly along Kaniau Road, the west part of town very close to the civic center. It includes around two dozen addresses and about 100 residents, according to Census estimates.

Darryl Oliveira, administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, said returning to destroyed properties will be difficult for families.

But he added it’s an important first step in coming back from an unimaginable tragedy.

“Talking to the staff, they had a couple of emotional moments, especially for someone older showing up with a family member that has some mobility challenges and just being concerned that they want to get their insurance representative on to their properties,” he said.

“I think that’s the common type of scenario ... just people who are struggling and want to get some closure, not just that emotional closure, but maybe even financial closure with their insurance.”

Re-entry for residents in Zone 1C will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Residents going into the burn zone will be given a bag from the state Department of Health that includes things like gloves, goggles, even PPE that covers the entire body.


The personal protective equipment, also know as PPE, covers the feet all the way up to the head.

Dr. Lorrin Pang, with the Maui DOH, said it’s the bare minimum to ensure safety for people going into buildings. The concern is with toxic dust or soot from the Aug. 8 wildfires that melted through things like TVs and walls. That soot is now believed to be lying on the ground with potential toxins.

Pang said they don’t know just how dangerous the toxic dust may be.

“They want to go in. There’s going to be dust. How much dust is too much dust, we do not know,” said Pang. “I would tell them read what happened after 9/11. They thought there would not be long-term side effects, but the cancers show way later for people who worked that day.”

On Monday, some Lahaina residents will be allowed to go into the burn zone to see what’s left of their homes.