Wildfires that broke out in Maui last week have decimated more than 2,500 acres of land and destroyed the historic town of Lāhainā. The death toll continues to rise, with at least 111 confirmed deaths as of Friday. On Monday, the governor of Hawaiʻi, Josh Green, said that more than 1,300 Maui residents remain unaccounted for.
Beaverton-based nonprofit Ka ‘Aha Lāhui O ‘Olekona Hawaiian Civic Club of Oregon and SW Washington put out a kāhea, a Hawaiian phrase for a call for help or need, for donations to aid in relief efforts for the island.
KALOHCC has collected diapers, food, clothing, gas canisters, bedding, cleaning supplies and other goods to aid those who were displaced by the fires. Leialoha Kaʻula, the executive director of KALOHCC, was born in Oʻahu and raised on the island of Hawaiʻi.
She said that the response to the appeal for aid from Oregonians has been “incredible.”
“Our community answered that kāhea tenfold,” she said.
KALOHCC has stopped accepting physical donations because of the overwhelming response it has received. The group is currently working with Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Air and Aloha Air Cargo to ship the thousands of donations it has received beginning next week.
Kaʻula says that community members from Hawaiʻi who live in the continental U.S. are experiencing a new level of anxiety heightened by the disaster while being so far away from loved ones.
“That is our greatest fear,” she said. “This is an example of how many of us living here on the continent feel everyday.”
For those with loved ones on Maui, difficulty reaching them adds more pain to an already stressful situation.
“Those moments of silence, even if it was … just a few hours, felt like days,” said Kaʻula. And for those who had to wait for days for updates about their loved ones, “it felt like months … it was terrifying,” she added.
Officials are still investigating the cause of the wildfires on Maui which started last week. Local officials are facing mounting criticism of their response to the deadliest wildfire in U.S. history in more than 100 years.
Kaʻula said there are other ways Oregonians can help. Although KALOHCC is no longer accepting physical donations, it is accepting gift cards to Costco, Target and Safeway on behalf of Maui wildfire victims. It will also host a benefit concert in early September.
“The immediate need for Maui is definitely being answered and we cannot say Mahalo enough, but this process, and what we’re going through right now, it’s a long term,” Kaʻula said. “We need the support of our community to remind the many, many, many developers who are trying to take over Lāhainā, that those are family lands.”
Rebuilding efforts will take time, but Kaʻula remains hopeful for the future.
“The light has truly been shined on Hawaiʻi,” she said. “Our hope is when we rebuild Maui and Lāhainā, that our culture gets to thrive in that restructuring and rebuilding.
“When Lāhainā comes to life again, and the people see Lāhainā, they see the beauty of what Hawaiʻi is as well.”
Leialoha Kaʻula joined OPB’s “Think Out Loud” to discuss relief efforts underway for Maui wildfire victims. You can listen to the full conversation here: