‘It looks like a horror movie’: Lahaina residents return home for first time since deadly Maui wildfires

Those who lost their homes in the wildfire last month were finally able to return to their properties.
Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 8:18 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 25, 2023 at 9:05 PM HST
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LAHAINA (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was an emotional day for many Lahaina residents on Monday.

Those who lost their homes in the wildfire last month were finally able to return to their properties.

Hawaii News Now got permission to be with one family to share their story.

A family who lives on Kaniau Road allowed our reporter, Chelsea Davis, to go with them to see their home. They say it was a painful — but important — part of the healing process.

Tawni Katayama held onto her 84-year-old grandmother, Noreen Wales, as they walked through their Kaniau Road home on Monday morning.

Every step is an agonizing reminder of everything they lost.

“What is that?” Noreen asked.

“The grill,” Tawni answered her.

Noreen’s two-story home was built in 1968. Four generations lived there.

“It’s unrecognizable. It’s hard to process, I would say, I guess,” said Tawni.

Tawni was raised in that home and planned on raising her three children here too, but now she says she doesn’t think it’s possible.

“Right now, it just looks it looks weird, looks like a horror movie,” she said.

Tawni says they don’t want to leave Hawaii, but they might have to.

“You’d think with two really good incomes, my husband and I, we’d be able to buy a house and give my children what they deserve. What I had growing up here. We had a home with a yard and a neighborhood. And it’s not possible because of how expensive homes are. We were looking around a little bit, and it’s like a million dollars.”

Tawni’s mother, Tiara Wales, also grew up in that home. She said she is heartbroken over the thought of her daughter moving away.

“It’s gonna break our family apart,” Tiara said, crying. “I just can’t believe it’s gone. It’s heartbreaking … all our memories were here.”

Tawni is a photographer who depends on tourists to make a living. However, she says she’s not ready to go back to work yet.

“It’s frustrating because we depend on them so much,” said Tawni. “They’re planning on opening Lahaina on the 8th, and as much as I need the income, none of us is ready to put on a smile and work for them when we’re struggling. We’re still mourning. We’re still grieving, and the expectation for us to put on a bright face and to be asked over and over and over again, ‘Did you lose your home in the fire?’ And then having to answer that.”

Tawni is calling on government officials to do better.

“It’s still hard to process,” she said, holding back tears. “It should have been preventable. This was all preventable.”

If you would like to help Tawni and her family rebuild, click here.

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