A select number of residents were permitted to return to the Hawaiian city of Lahaina on Monday after a massive wildfire resulted in nearly 100 confirmed deaths and left thousands of structures damaged or destroyed.
While locals are slowly returning to the island of Maui, however, life is unlikely to ever be the same.
Those residents and business owners granted access after nearly two months weren’t allowed to explore their property on their own. Instead, officials with the Environmental Protection Agency were on hand to escort them to certain areas.
Part of that precaution was for their own safety, but it also allowed professionals to offer a bit of support for a process that was overwhelming and highly emotional for people who lost so much in the fire.
Fewer than 500 of the city’s properties have been cleared by the EPA, meaning the majority of locals will have to wait even longer before surveying the damage and starting to rebuild. West Maui is expected to open on Oct. 8.
A devastating sight
Maui Emergency Management Agency interim administrator Darryl Oliveira acknowledged that many people wouldn’t even be able to recognize their property due to the extensive toll that the disaster took.
“So we want to really support them in this process,” he said.
More than the shock of losing their property, Oliveira noted that many people returning to the island are doing so with the knowledge that they’re visiting the location of a loved one’s death.
These folks “might be looking for closure,” he noted, which could involve scouring the fire-damaged property for something to serve “as a memento of that person’s passing.”
In order to remain safe, equipment such as respirators, masks, booties, and coveralls are being distributed at the scene.