Lahaina residents struggle with return of tourism in West Maui
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LAHAINA, Hawaii (NewsNation) — It’s been about a month since the full reopening of West Maui following the Aug. 8 wildfire that killed nearly 100 people and caused billions of dollars in damage. While many tourists are eager to do their part to help reboot the local economy, Lahaina families say they aren’t emotionally ready.

For a lot of fire survivors, offering true aloha spirit right now is a huge emotional stretch.

“People come to Hawaii, yeah, it’s a beautiful tropical island, but what makes Hawaii even more special is the people of the place,” Lahaina Strong organizer Pa’ele Kiakona said.

Kiakona said the people of the island are still hurting and aren’t ready for the full reopening of West Maui tourism.

“We have some here that have quit their jobs because for you to have to go and cater to somebody, and being in the situation that we’re in, I mean, you have to go cater to someone staying comfortable in a hotel,” Kiakona said. “It’s a lot.”

Just steps away from where tourists enjoy $26 burgers along the famed Ka’anapali beach, some Lahaina natives live in tents and rely on food donations.

They want to raise awareness about their struggle to recover and get into long-term housing.

“Those 3,000 housing units are a challenge, and that’s what I’ll be doing all day and night until we get it done,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said.

The governor has defended that decision to fully reopen, citing economic losses and a history of Hawaiian resilience in rising from adversity.

However, he does urge visitors who travel to West Maui to be sensitive and considerate with hospitality workers.

“There are going to be moments, and that’s going to be captured, of course. And that’s OK. It’s an important part of the experience. But I’m going to continue to move us forward to recover,” Green said.

Peter and Josephine Creange were visiting Lahaina from New Mexico, saying they wanted to give back a little while enjoying the city.

“We love Lahaina. We were here a year ago and it was bustling,” Josephine Creange said. “It just broke our hearts and we’ve kept up with all of the news here even though we’re in New Mexico.”

With tourism numbers heading back up, some fear a worsening mental health crisis among natives.

“We can’t welcome people in with open arms when our arms are wrapped around our family members, wrapped around the little bit of hope that we have left in our place,” Kiakona said.

About 75% of all private sector jobs in West Maui are in hospitality. Green said workers who don’t feel ready to return are allowed to remain on unemployment.

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