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Hundreds seek details on fire recovery

LAHAINA — Royale Romo and her brother, Randal, are living in uncertainty in their temporary digs at the Hyatt Regency Maui.

“We do not know what to expect the following day,” Royale Romo said Friday. “You wake up and we anticipate something bad is going to happen.”

Royale Romo works at the Maui Police Department in Lahaina, where she listened to the devastation through the police scanner on Aug. 8, the day of the fires.

“I was totally emotional,” she said.

The Romos were among the estimated 600 people who packed the Lahaina Civic Center Friday evening to get updates on the fire recovery, housing and assistance.

The community meeting held by the county began with a video showing the photos and names of the victims of the fire who have been identified. Tears could be seen on the faces of some in the audience. Attendees ate chili and rice and at the end of the meeting joined hands and sang “Hawai’i Aloha.”

A similar meeting was held Sunday afternoon at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.


The county also estimated it would take eight to 12 weeks for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove hazardous materials in Lahaina. The EPA, which began work in Lahaina on Aug. 29, started with three teams but now has nine.

“They’ve done half already,” Bissen said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with the clearing of fire debris. Col. Jess Curry, currently serving as commander for the Recovery Field Office in response to the Maui wildfires, said work could take six to 12 months.

But he said this also depends on the Army Corps receiving right-of-entry permission from private landowners.

Curry said owners will be able to diagram their properties and note any sensitive areas they may be concerned about, and cultural monitors will be on hand during their work. He added they will ensure that they take the time “not to overlook the important steps.”

Maui County Water Director John Stufflebean, said that testing and flushing of the water system in Lahaina will be going on “for weeks and months.” Stufflebean said that while “water sources were not impacted by the fire,” the pipes in the distribution system were broken and the system was depressurized during the fire, which could allow contaminants like smoke and ash to enter the system.

“The good news is, thus far nothing in the distribution system has exceeded health (standards) so that’s good news,” he said.

However, the department still needs to do more testing and will clear Lahaina area by area from the unsafe water advisory.

He said they are focusing on the areas of the Villages of Leali’i as well as south of the bypass and the Lahaina Cannery Mall area.

“We want to restore the water as quickly as possible. We want to make sure it is safe as quick as possible, but we are not going to remove the water advisory until we are absolutely sure it is safe and that takes several rounds of testing,” he said.

“It’s going to take a lot. Sorry to say that, it’s kind of tough news. But this is a huge undertaking,” Stufflebean added.

Air quality is also undergoing testing, state Department of Health Director Dr. Kenneth Fink said.

“The results are reassuring. We are not seeing toxic materials floating in the air. The toxins are in the ash,” he said. “The air is OK until or unless the ash is disturbed and gets airborne. So that’s the concern.”

However, during reentry, there will be disturbance to the ash, which will get into the air “and that is a concern.”

Starting today, the county is allowing the first set of residents to return to their properties in Kaniau Road in Zone 1C.

Fink said it is important for those entering the impacted zone to take measures to protect themselves, such as covering their skin, using goggles to cover their eyes and a mask to cover their mouth. He said they should properly dispose of coveralls and equipment on-site and should wash and shampoo their hair upon returning home.

As cleanup continues, many residents like the Romos continue to be concerned about the future of their housing.

The Romos lost their family home of more than 50 years in Wahikuli. Randal Romo is receiving unemployment assistance as the restaurant he worked for in Honokowai stopped the breakfast shift that he worked as tourism slumped. Like his sister, he expressed uneasiness about their housing situation.

“We are staying in a hotel right now so a lot of people are hearing it’s only until the end of September, and other people are saying it is until the end of October. And then the governor is saying, ‘no it’s 18 months,’ so we have no idea when it’s going to be up,” he said.


Source: The Maui News September 25, 2023

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