In Lahaina on the island of Maui, there are no structures standing. What was once a beautiful, thriving city is now mostly rubble, rock and ash as the result of August wildfires that engulfed more than 2,000 acres of land and killed 97 people. Most of the structures burned in the fire were homes.
A team of 13 TBM volunteers arrived in Maui Oct. 7 to help with recovery as zones of the island are reopening so homeowners can see their homes for the first time. Some returning residents walk as if in a daze, shocked to see their homes and neighborhoods so utterly changed.
TBM volunteers backed away to give returning residents space and time to process their emotions and possibly find closure.
When the homeowner is ready, the volunteers come alongside and help them sift through the ash to find possessions.
The experience is “quite emotional,” said Curt Neal, TBM team leader. “It’s not just possessions. They’ve lost neighbors. It’s going to take some time to reflect on what their loss has been, and we’re going to be there for them. We will provide emotional support and be there to do whatever they want.”
The teams are working slowly and evaluating the needs of the homeowners, Neal said. They are flexible and work with what the homeowners need.
Everyone in the area is wearing protective clothing – white Tyvek suits, booties, a hood, goggles and a mask. The suits are meant to keep unsafe particles away from the body but also block any ventilation. It gets hot, almost suffocating, in the suits in the mid-80s temperature and no shade.
Some residents come with a specific item in mind they want to try to find. Others want to find anything. Regardless, the process of sifting through the ash can help provide some closure the homeowners need.
Disasters like this require both an immediate response and an extended commitment.
TBM “quickly sent more than $100,000 in aid to help Maui Christians help their neighbors after the fires,” said Rand Jenkins, chief strategy officer for TBM. “We delivered funding through a statewide group and Waiehu Community Church in Maui.”
TBM’s initial funds were used to provide generators, water, fuel and other necessities, Jenkins said. “We also helped the church and its members house those who lost their homes.”
Pastor Rocky Komatsu of Waiehu Church said: “We are going to need years of support for rebuilding. We need funding now, but in the months ahead we will need years of rebuilding assistance.”