Too soon for tourists for many of the residents of Maui and Lahaina, demanding space for mourning and rebuilding before outsiders push back in.
Residents of fire-ravaged Lahaina in Hawaii have presented a petition to Governor Josh Green, urging a delay in reopening parts of West Maui to tourists due to the ongoing emotional distress and challenges faced by the community. The petition with 3,517 signatures from West Maui zip codes reflects a contentious debate regarding when it is appropriate for visitors to return to the area, which witnessed the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century on August 8. Ninety-eight people are confirmed dead, and many are still missing. The heat of the blaze, and the many who had to seek refuge in the sea mean that some bodies will never be found.
The initial phase of the reopening plan is set to commence on Sunday, which marks the two-month anniversary of the disaster. While some residents acknowledge the need for tourism to resume for economic reasons, others assert that they are not emotionally prepared to welcome visitors and say it is too soon.
Tamara Paltin, who represents Lahaina on the Maui County Council, emphasized the severe challenges faced by the community, including a lack of reliable communication services for an entire month after the fire and ongoing uncertainty regarding housing.
Green responded to the petition, acknowledging the suffering of the residents and their need to return to work. He noted that over 8,000 individuals had lost their jobs due to the fire, and the economic recovery was a crucial aspect of rebuilding the community.
Despite the economic considerations, many residents remain apprehensive about the emotional toll and the insensitivity of tourists. Some residents are not yet ready to return to work, as they do not wish to be constantly reminded of the disaster.
The governor emphasized the importance of tourism in rebuilding the community, providing healthcare coverage, and reconstructing the elementary school that was destroyed in the fire. However, many residents underscored the need for time to heal and return to normalcy, prioritizing their emotional well-being over economic concerns.