The Lack of Accountability for the Tragedies in Maui

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The wildfires in Maui are an exemplification of how disunited we can be in this country. As millionaires and billionaires continue to enjoy the island’s attractions-like Paris Hilton joyfully vacationing in Maui 30 miles away from the disasters-and as tourism concerns remain a focus for those on the mainland, many locals have lost their homes, loved ones and even their lives. Instead of getting help, those that lost the most are having to pay the greatest price for something they were never even warned about.

On Tuesday, August 8, a three-acre wall of fire blazed through the historic town of Lahaina. Lahaina, which was the original capital of the kingdom of Maui, is now a desert climate town where local needs are casually ignored by developers that continue to invade sacred spaces of the island for capital interest.

Fires demolished the town, charring up anything in their path. Meanwhile, there was no cell service and out of the 80 disaster alarms on the island, no emergency alarm was sounded.

Today over 1000 people are still reported missing in Maui, and the death toll continues to climb as it hits 104 casualties. Many of these casualties are presumed to be children. 

CBS News reported that the Hawaii State Department of Education said August 8 was originally supposed to be the local high school students’ back to school day, but classes were canceled because of a power outage. Students of all grades were then supposed to start up class the next day on the 9th. It was their last day of summer.

At 9:55 AM, a brush fire was declared “100%” contained by officials. By the afternoon, fires were sweeping through the town as floods of people tried to escape.

There are so many tragic stories of children, families, and loved ones losing their lives. This has terrorized a whole community of people, and yet there are so many things wrong with the federal response. 

You would think that in the midst of a tragic crisis, your thoughts and actions would go directly towards those who need help. As Americans, you would think the United States of America would look out for you when you are left at your worst from one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history. Shouldn’t there be some type of… empathy? There should be some type of consideration for those who are mourning unimaginable losses in their communities. All I’ve been seeing lately is strategic developmental planning and a lack of accountability from officials. 

Maui Emergency Management Agency Administrator, Herman Andaya, is seemingly looking down at his phone during a press conference following the incident. 

In the video, behind Andaya are three other officials-one of them being Hawaii Governor, Josh Green. When asked by a reporter if he regretted not sounding the alarms, Andaya responded saying, “I do not.” 

The continuous “reason” Andaya and Governor Green make for why alarms were never sounded is that because they are technically tsunami alarms, that would have somehow made citizens run into the fire. When trying to highlight the fact that so many people have said that if they were forewarned of the disaster, more could’ve been done to escape, the reporter was cut off. 

Moreover, locals have reported of land developers reaching out to them to sell their burned down homes. Governor Green did note of a possible effort to put a moratorium on property sales, but most residents are not convinced. Why should people trust a system that seems to have never put native Hawaiians first?

See for many locals, Hawaii is not a state of America-it’s an occupied nation. 

The United States annexed Hawaii against the wills of Hawaiian natives in the 1890’s. After supporting a coup to imprison the last sovereign queen, Queen Liliʻuokalani, the throne was eventually seized and taken over by the U.S.A. 

The United States brought a wide influx of invasive species-including non-native residents-to the land. This pushed out native Hawaiians and permanently affected many natural ecosystems in Hawaii. It also erased a ton of cultural history as Hawaii’s main source of income under America became tourism. Land that was once home to a kingdom, became commercialized for American enjoyment. Prices for food, gas-everything-had been hiked up, making the cost of life in Hawaii pricey. 

In the article, “Lahaina Used to be a Wetland,” national director of the Green New Deal Network in Maui, Kaniela Ing laid out the issue of land development following these fires.

 “Lahaina was the heart of Hawaii before statehood, before we were a territory, before we were illegally annexed,” he said. “The people who live on Front Street and adjacent to it tend to be some of the most rooted, most valuable keepers of indigenous wisdom in the world.”

He continued to explain that Lahaina used to be a lush, moist climate with bountiful natural resources, but due to colonization and climate change, it became a dry desert. If something isn’t done soon, wildfires could continue to plague Hawaii. 

“This greed is only going to continue if we don’t stop it,” Ing said. “Right now, on my home island, there are disaster capitalists that are meeting with elected officials, salivating at the models, trying to figure out how to exploit the situation and rebuild Lahaina in a way that’s unrecognizable to anyone with any roots there.”

“So as we rebuild—putting on the Green New Deal hat—it’s crucial that we uphold the Green New Deal’s vision of public lands, stewardship and water rights. It’s not just climate mitigation and adaptation. It’s also returning the control of our public trust resources into the hands of the public.”

The United States should be giving out more aid to Maui in peoples’ time of need so locals can grieve, crisis management can work efficiently, and solid answers can be given to families still missing loved ones. The fact that locals are continuing to face outright disrespect from officials in the midst of tragedy is wicked, and showcases evil habits we have to eradicate as a united country.

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