Dispatch from Maui

Emergency water supplies awaiting delivery | photo and text by Robb Petty

Robb and Jane Petty were neighbors on Gate 6 ½ until last year, when they bought their dream home in West Maui. Last week they were back on the dock, preparing their floating home for sale, when the wildfires struck the island. Learning that their Maui home had been spared, they flew back. Here’s Robb’s lightly edited report on conditions there:

Jane and I arrived at the Kahului airport and it seemed as if Hawaii had never been touched by such a severe disaster. Plumerias filled the air with a fragile fragrance and the weather was beautiful with mild breezes. Everything seemed as if nothing had changed. Our driver drove us to Kihei and during this drive recounted his trip to Lahaina only a few hours before the fire. He said that the wind was so strong and so severe that he essentially panicked, not because of the fire, but he was afraid that the wind would blow the palm fronds so strongly against the car that the branches would break the windows The wind was gusting at 50 to 80 mph. Another family had described driving towards Lahaina, seeing miles of downed power lines many of which were live and decided that they would go back to Kihei rather than risk the rest of the trip. Lori, the driver, had said that the wind was blowing the Jeep off the road and that at times she did not have stable steering.

Jane and I divided duties and I drove to our home from Kihei. This was the first day that the road was open and we waited for several hours at a police stop. The purpose: to let through only those residents who had an address for Lahaina or the West side of Maui. All others are turned around. When we arrived in Lahaina, although I expected the worst, nothing could prepare me for the horrible sight of seeing the town essentially flattened. There is a vista point right off the upper road that allowed us to see what is left of Lahaina, which is nothing. We could see the stretch of land between our vista and the ocean being approximately 1 1/2 miles we looked north approximately 2 miles and south approximately 2 miles and saw nothing but ash and smoldering buildings. Nothing of the town is left or salvageable. We talked to a few residents who are picking through the ashes for any remains of personal effects at one of the workforce housing projects. The building had only been completed approximately 6 months ago and apparently there was no fire protection within the building.

We drove the six miles between Lahaina and our house and once again were greeted by beautiful palm trees, plumerias, bougainvillea. Looking northward, nothing had changed.

This morning, the massive destruction fresh in my mind, I drove to the War Memorial Gymnasium where a relief center had been set up for the homeless and the displaced citizens of Lahaina. I listened to the stories of people who had barely escaped death. The relief center was something to behold: I estimated that there were twice as many volunteers as there were victims. The citizens of Maui had rallied as I had never before witnessed. Carloads and truckloads of food and clothing were coming in an endless stream of cars dropping off supplies. Multiple tents of varied colors were set up on the periphery of the memorial. One Lowe’s hardware truck was filled with picnic benches, charcoal, and barbecue grills. This was being set up for the displaced residents. Multiple churches were offering spots for people to sleep. Five of our friends and acquaintances have lost their homes and everything. I’m still trying to locate our plumber friend who has been so helpful to us in the past.

While I was doing volunteer work at the memorial, Jane had taken Brian and his two firefighter buddies to our home in Lahaina so that they can begin their volunteer work. Although the fire is nearly completely controlled, they will volunteer for the clean-up. Jane tells me that at the Napili market a food and clothing center has been established as well as mental health volunteers establishing themselves at a beach called S Turns which is popular among surfers and locals.

Our friend Anita, anticipating the arrival of the firefighters, picked a bushel of plumeria blossoms and made flower leis for them. She told me that as she was picking the flowers, she heard an annoying voice making some sort of announcement. She realized that that annoying voice was a loudspeaker from an airplane overhead which was telling the displaced Lahaina people where food and relief could be found. At that time telecommunications were still pretty sketchy.

This morning, the 14th, Jane is at our home in Mahina and I am in Kihei. She will go up to Napili market and get a placard which allows us unrestricted travel between West Maui and the remainder of the island. I will go with her and consequently experience no Wi-Fi within the foreseeable future

One of the mistakes that Jane and I made in going to Haiti was that we were soliciting items which, when we got there, were not necessary. What was necessary was money going to the correct organization. Of course the Red Cross is here and is performing valuable assistance. One of the other tasks for me is to determine which charity and group would be worthy of any contribution that you wish to make, if you are so inclined. This recovery phase will obviously take years.

Jane and I have found one charity where I know that 100% of the proceeds will go to those in need. One individual is extremely connected to the residents of Maui. He is the musician George Kahumoku, 30+ years a teacher at the local high school, and local philanthropist. We personally know his musicians who have lost their homes and businesses. We plan to make monthly donations and are encouraging all of you to investigate and hopefully contribute consistently.

Finally, if you are the praying type, double down on those prayers.