Printable Page Headline News   Return to Menu - Page 1 2 3 5 6 7 8 13
Lahaina Residents Return      09/24 07:35

   Lahaina residents are grappling with a range of emotions as Maui authorities 
plan next week to begin allowing some on supervised visits back into the areas 
devastated by the Aug. 8 fire, which killed at least 97 people and demolished 
thousands of buildings.

   HONOLULU (AP) -- Soon after one of Maui's Japanese Buddhist temples, the 
Lahaina Hongwanji Mission, burned in the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a 
century, its resident minister was desperate to go back and see what remained.

   Six weeks later, he's more hesitant.

   "Now I feel like I have to have mental preparation to go there," the Rev. Ai 
Hironaka said. "I'm kind of afraid."

   Hironaka and other Lahaina residents are grappling with a range of emotions 
as Maui authorities plan next week to begin allowing some on supervised visits 
back into the areas devastated by the Aug. 8 fire, which killed at least 97 
people and demolished thousands of buildings.

   Lana Vierra is bracing to see the ruins of the home where she raised five 
children, a house that started with three bedrooms in 1991 and was expanded to 
six to accommodate her extended family as the cost of living in Hawaii soared.

   She's been telling her family to be ready when it's their turn, so that they 
can all visit together.

   "We're preparing our minds for that," she said. "I don't know if our hearts 
are prepared for that."

   Authorities have divided the burned area into 17 zones and dozens of 
sub-zones. Residents or property owners of the first to be cleared for reentry 
-- known as Zone 1C, along Kaniau Road in the north part of Lahaina -- will be 
allowed to return Monday and Tuesday on supervised visits.

   Government agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the 
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maui County's highways division are involved 
in clearing the zones for reentry by, among other things, removing any 
hazardous materials, checking buildings for structural safety and ensuring safe 
road access.

   Those returning will be provided water, shade, washing stations, portable 
toilets, medical and mental health care, and transportation assistance if 
needed, said Darryl Oliveira, Maui Emergency Management Agency interim 

   Non-profit groups are also offering personal protective equipment, including 
respirator masks and coveralls. Officials have warned that ash could contain 
asbestos, lead, arsenic or other toxins. There are other hazards, too, Oliveira 
said, such as burned out cars along roads and chunks of metal or concrete in 
the ruins.

   "We really want to help guide them, provide them the support, but also 
provide them the privacy, that space and quiet, so they can get the closure 
they're looking for," Oliveira said in a video message Thursday.

   Some people might want to sift through the ashes for any belongings or 
mementos that survived, but officials are urging them not to, for fear of 
stirring up toxic dust that could endanger them or their neighbors downwind. 
Other residents said they didn't immediately have plans to return to the 
properties because jobs or the hassle of obtaining a pass to reenter the burn 
zone would keep them away.

   Melody Lukela-Singh plans to take a hazardous materials course before 
visiting the Front Street property where the house she lived in with about a 
dozen relatives once stood.

   "I'm hoping to learn what we're going to encounter as far as exposure to 
things we know nothing about," she said. "The winds pick up and it's going to 
be all in the air. It's going be a while before all of that is gone."

   Hironaka reflected on how his feelings toward reentry have changed as the 
weeks have passed -- and as the magnitude of losing the temple, along with his 
home on the temple grounds, has set in.

   "After a week, I feel like I still have energy, like a car with full tank of 
gas," Hironaka said. "After I use all the gasoline, I don't know where to fill 
it up, what to fill it up. No gas. I feel like I'm pushing the empty-gas car 
only by myself. Pushing from the back."

   He, his wife, their four children and their French bulldog piled into his 
Honda Civic to escape the flames. As they drove off, he said, he imagined the 
temple as protecting their home.

   In a phone interview, he said he initially intended not to cry until he 
could return to thank the temple and apologize to the Buddha statue that had 
been at its main altar. But he became emotional and sobbed as he spoke, saying, 
"The temple building, I was supposed to protect as resident minister."

   He has found solace, he said, in Buddhism's teachings of wisdom and 
compassion, that Buddha has no judgment and allows him to feel whatever he 
feels in the moment.

   Hironaka said he often sees a photo taken by The Maui News and distributed 
worldwide by The Associated Press that shows the temple burning alongside 
Waiola Church next door. He considered the temple, built in 1933, to be like a 
family member, he said.

   "That's the end-of-life picture to me," he said.

   Lahaina's two other Japanese Buddhist temples also burned down.

   Jarom Ayoso is eager to get back to the property where he and his wife 
rented a house for nearly 15 years. His son was able to get in the day after 
the fire and took video of the destruction.

   "I want closure for my end. The only way I going get that is if I go and see 
it," he said in Hawaii Pidgin.

   Ayoso wants to see what's left of the vehicles he lovingly rebuilt, 
including his 1986 GMC Sierra pickup truck. There were also motors he built on 
the property, including one that cost more than $13,000. He was just about to 
install it, he said, and "poof -- gone."


Copyright DTN. All rights reserved. Disclaimer.
Powered By DTN