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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Hawaii governor vows to block land grabs as fire-ravaged Maui rebuilds

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LAHAINA, Aug 17 (AP): Hawaii’s governor vowed to protect local landowners from being
“victimized” by opportunistic buyers when Maui rebuilds from a deadly wildfire that incinerated a
historic island community, as schools began reopening.
Gov. Josh Green said on Wednesday that he had instructed the state attorney general to work
toward a moratorium on land transactions in Lahaina. He acknowledged the move will likely face
legal challenges.
“My intention from start to finish is to make sure that no one is victimized from a land grab,” Green
said at a news conference. “People are right now traumatized. Please do not approach them with an
offer to buy their land. 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.”
Also Wednesday, the number of dead reached 111, and Maui police said nine victims had been
identified, and the families of five had been notified. A mobile morgue unit with additional coroners
arrived on Tuesday to help process and identify remains.
Since flames consumed much of Lahaina about a week ago, locals have feared that a rebuilt town
could be even more oriented toward wealthy visitors, Lahaina native Richy Palalay said Saturday at a
shelter for evacuees.
Hotels and condos “that we can’t afford to live in — that’s what we’re afraid of,” he said.
Many in Lahaina were struggling to afford life in Hawaii before the fire. Statewide, a typical starter
home costs over $1 million, while the average renter pays 42% of their income for housing,
according to a Forbes Housing analysis, the highest ratio in the country by a wide margin.
The 2020 census found more native Hawaiians living on the mainland than the islands for the first
time in history, driven in part by a search for cheaper housing.
Green pledged to announce details of the moratorium by Friday. He added that he also wants to see
a long-term moratorium on sales of land that won’t “benefit local people.”
Green made affordable housing a priority when he entered office in January, appointing a czar for
the issue and seeking $1 billion for housing programs. Since the fires, he’s also suggested acquiring
land in Lahaina for the state to build workforce housing as well as a memorial.
Meanwhile, signs of recovery emerged as public schools across Maui reopened, welcoming displaced
students from Lahaina, and traffic resumed on a major road.
Sacred Hearts School in Lahaina was destroyed, and Principal Tonata Lolesio said lessons would
resume in the coming weeks at another Catholic school. She said it was important for students to be
with their friends, teachers and books, and not constantly thinking about the tragedy.
“I’m hoping to at least try to get some normalcy or get them in a room where they can continue to
learn or just be in another environment where they can take their minds off of that,” she said.
At least three surviving schools in Lahaina were still being assessed after sustaining wind damage,
Hawaii Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi said.
“There’s still a lot of work to do, but overall the campuses and classrooms are in good condition
structurally, which is encouraging,” Hayashi said in a video update. “We know the recovery effort is
still in the early stages, and we continue to grieve the many lives lost.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened its first disaster recovery center on Maui, “an
important first step” toward helping residents get information about assistance, FEMA administrator
Deanne Criswell said Wednesday. They also can go there for updates on aid applications.
Criswell said she would accompany President Joe Biden on Monday when he visits to survey the
damage and “bring hope.”
At Wednesday’s news conference, the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency defended
not sounding sirens during the fire. Hawaii has what it touts as the largest system of outdoor alert
sirens in the world, created after a 1946 tsunami that killed more than 150 on the Big Island.
“We were afraid that people would have gone mauka,” said agency administrator Herman Andaya,
using a navigational term that can mean toward the mountains or inland in Hawaiian. “If that was

the case, then they would have gone into the fire.” There are no sirens in the mountains, where the
fire was spreading downhill, he said.
Avery Dagupion, whose family’s home was destroyed, said he’s angry that residents weren’t given
earlier warning to get out and that officials prematurely suggested danger had passed.
He pointed to an announcement by Maui Mayor Richard Bissen on Aug. 8 saying the fire had been
contained, that he said lulled people into a sense of safety and left him distrusting officials.
At the news conference, Green and Bissen bristled when asked about such criticism.
“I can’t answer why people don’t trust people,” Bissen said. “The people who were trying to put out
these fires lived in those homes — 25 of our firefighters lost their homes. You think they were doing
a halfway job?”

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