Buildings still smolder days after a wildfire gutted downtown Lahaina on August 11, 2023.
Robert Gauthier/Getty Images
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Maui wildfires burned most of Lahaina, and recovery efforts are still underway.
Developers have already expressed interest in the land, threatening Hawaiian Indigenous practices.
The Maui wildfires are the deadliest in modern US history. The death toll is over 100, and more than 1,000 people are still missing.
But despite the widespread damage in Lahaina, more remains at risk.
As recovery efforts continue, Hawaii residents have urged tourists to stay away and slammed them for clogging roads and delaying supply deliveries. Many have shared on social media firsthand accounts of the devastation.
While agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the military have stepped in to help, locals have a historical distrust of the US government.
Plus, to circumvent intermediaries — who sometimes capitalize on people’s donations — many have worked on grassroots efforts to get money donated directly to Lahaina residents and local groups.
For example, one person made a viral spreadsheet of more than 1,000 verified Lahaina residents that included their stories, what they needed, and how to pay them directly.
However, even those efforts have had hiccups. Initially, the size of the list meant those toward the top received the lion’s share of the aid. But another person created a method to help sort the verified residents by who received the lowest number of donations.
Direct monetary relief currently helps locals with short-term needs. Many Lahaina residents in the spreadsheet detailed their needs for food, clothes, and shelter after losing everything in the fire.
Beyond the immediate, some mentioned rebuilding their homes in the future. The fire burned down about 3,000 structures, including whole apartment buildings.
A Mercy Worldwide volunteer makes damage assessment of charred apartment complex in the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina, western Maui, Hawaii on August 12, 2023.
YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images
Developers have already started reaching out to Lahaina residents to see whether they’d be willing to sell their waterfront land, social-media posts and reports have said. Many have urged each other online to stand strong — no matter how tempting — and resist the offers during this time of need.
Gov. Josh Green of Hawaii has tried to make sure local landowners don’t feel pressured to sell amid these dire times. He accused developers of trying to “steal land from our people” and contacted the state attorney general about pausing land transactions in Lahaina.
“My intention from start to finish is to make sure that no one is victimized from a land grab,” Green said. “Do not approach their families saying they’ll be much better off if they make a deal. Because we’re not going to allow it.”
Lahaina was the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom at two points during its existence. And it’s considered a sacred spot to Native Hawaiians — their beliefs say Lahaina is the home of Kihawahine, a woman who turned into a shape-shifting lizard goddess.
“Hawaiian Indigenous practices have a lot of gods, goddesses, supernatural entities that are part of their belief system that live in the metaphysical but also the physical,” Rosalyn R. LaPier, an Indigenous scholar who studies the environment and religion of Indigenous peoples, told Insider.
She added that these physical places could be anywhere from their homes to a rock and served as spots where people could physically go to practice their religion.
Despite his efforts, Green acknowledged that his move to protect local landowners would likely face legal challenges. And if developers succeed, yet another part of Hawaii will be stripped from locals and reserved for the wealthy.