Lahaina to Hawaii Governor: We're Not Ready to Reopen

Residents deliver petition asking to delay new tourism, but it's a tricky economic situation
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 4, 2023 12:15 PM CDT
Lahaina Has a Message: No Tourists Just Yet
Bonnelley Pa'uulu, director of constituent services for Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, accepts a box on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, with a petition asking Gov. Josh Green to delay plans to reopen part of West Maui to tourism starting this weekend. The petition was signed by more than 14,000 people.   (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

Residents from fire-stricken Lahaina on Tuesday delivered a petition asking Hawaii Gov. Josh Green to delay plans to reopen a portion of West Maui to tourism starting this weekend, saying the grieving community is not ready to welcome back visitors. The petition signed by 3,517 people from West Maui zip codes comes amid a fierce and anguished debate over when travelers should return to the region home to the historic town of Lahaina that was destroyed in the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century. At least 98 people died in the Aug. 8 blaze and more than a dozen are missing.

The first phase of the plan to reopen Maui to tourists begins Sunday, reports the AP, the two-month anniversary of the disaster. Though many residents say they are not ready, others say they need tourism so they can work in hotels and restaurants to earn a living. "We are not mentally nor emotionally ready to welcome and serve our visitors. Not yet," restaurant bartender Pa'ele Kiakona said before several dozen people delivered the petition. "Our grief is still fresh and our losses too profound."

Tamara Paltin, who represents Lahaina on the Maui County Council, said two months may seem like a long time, but she noted Lahaina residents didn't have reliable cellphone service or internet for the first month after the fire and have been coping with uncertain housing. She said many people, including herself, can't sleep through the night. Paltin urged the governor to decide on when to reopen after consulting residents in an "open and transparent way." Green told the Hawaii News Now interview program "Spotlight Now" shortly afterward that he was "utterly sympathetic" to people's suffering. But he said more than 8,000 people have lost their jobs due to the fire and getting people back to work was part of recovering.

story continues below

Maui is among the most tourism-dependent islands in Hawaii. The number of visitors plummeted 70% after the fire when Green and tourism officials discouraged "non-essential travel" to the island. University of Hawaii economists estimate unemployment will top 10% on Maui, compared to 2.5% in July. The first phase to be reopened is a 15- to 20-minute drive north of the burned area. Bissen said second and third phases, both covering zones closer to the burned parts of Lahaina, would reopen after officials assess earlier phases.

(More Lahaina stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.