More of West Maui will reopen to visitors Nov. 1, including hotels and properties from Kahana to the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa in Kaanapali, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen announced Monday afternoon.
“Families and workers expressed that … there is a sense of readiness,” Bissen said at a press conference at the Lahaina Civic Center. “This is not for everyone. Those who are not ready to return to work should contact their employers and continue to seek the help and attention they need.
The Nov. 1 reopening includes phases 2 and 3 of the three-phase plan Bissen created after Gov. Josh Green announced in September that West Maui would reopen to tourism on Oct. 8, two months after deadly wildfires destroyed the town of Lahaina, residences and companies. Bissen’s phased approach began with the first opening of The Ritz-Carlton, Maui Kapalua next to Kahana Villa.
“We’ve had some pretty good results since reopening on October 8,” Bissen said Monday. “The interaction between visitors and the local community has been positive and that also entered into our decision.”
Bissen also addressed lingering concerns about whether the return of visitors will affect displaced residents who are currently staying in more than 36 hotels and properties.
“We are announcing the Nov. 1 date with a lot of discussions with our advisory team in Lahaina, with the Red Cross and with some of our partners,” Byte said. “We know there is concern about housing for our displaced and affected families. We are assured by the Red Cross that their homes will not be at risk with the opening on this date of November 1.”
Bissen said the county is also working with partners to help working families with child care, especially care for young children, when they return to work.
Displaced Lahaina resident Randall Romo and his sister continue to stay at the Hyatt Regency, and despite the ever-changing hours they have to check in with the Red Cross, they said they know they can stay there and not be evicted.
He hopes they can hire him and he can find out by next week.
Romo knows the economy is collapsing and government officials are trying to revive it, but he said “they still have to think of us first.” Tourists will come in and spend money, but “Where are we going?” Romo said.
He said he was “kind of on the fence” about West Maui opening up more and understanding that people need to work.
But, he said, it is “It’s going to be hard to watch these people walk around with happy smiles on their faces because they’re on vacation.”
He said his sister, Royal, went out to lunch earlier this month in Kaanapali and had an anxiety attack while she was among diners. His sister’s work does not deal directly with visitors.
Maui County Councilwoman Tamara Paltin, who holds the West Maui seat, said Bissen called her ahead of time to tell her about Monday’s announcement. She said she shared with him some of the concerns, such as the need for child care as many of the city’s daycare facilities burned down, as well as concerns about families being evicted from some temporary shelters while they cook in their rooms . She was also worried about some displaced families who were still moving from place to place.
Then there is too “the infrastructure we don’t have,” from multiple grocery stores to restaurants to try to serve visitors, Paltin added.
She said she does “somewhat agree” with the mayor that there were no major incidents with visitors and residents during the initial opening, other than visitors taking pictures where they shouldn’t.
“We hope the numbers will not overwhelm our infrastructure and strain residents’ patience,” Paltin said.
During Monday’s press conference, Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke also announced efforts to boost Maui’s economy and recovery, including a website, mauinuifirst.com, that features Maui County products, businesses and events. She added that there will be events supporting Maui on Oahu at the Blaisdell Center and in Waikiki, along with events on Kauai and Hawaii Island.
“These events will be free for the vendors and what we want to do is showcase the people of Maui on all the islands and how … the entire nation can connect with the vendors of Maui, the people of Maui,” Luke said.
Bissen and Luke were joined by the other three county mayors, who were together for the first time to see the devastation. The mayors, who have all been in contact since the Aug. 8 fires, pledged continued support for Maui County.
“We think this is not just a situation in Maui, but for all of us,” Honolulu City and County Mayor Rick Blangiardi said. “We will all be affected by this. We want the people of Maui to know they are not alone. We’re all in this together.”
Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said he met with a family from the island of Hawaii who came to Maui to clean up what was left of their father’s house in Lahaina.
“The thought that occurred to me was, is there anything you can find?” Roth asked.
He said they found a small vase and some jewelry “which was almost melted.”
“There are no words to describe how devastating it must have been for them. I felt devastated,” Roth said.
“We of Hawai’i Island, the people of Hawai’i Island, Hawai’i County truly stand with Maui, its mayor and all of its people.”
Kauai County Mayor Derek Kawakami recalled that he was 15 years old when Hurricane Iniki devastated Kauai in 1992.
“And then I thought Kauai was going to be destroyed forever, and I guess my message to our young people and the people of Maui is that this is not the end,” Kawakami said. “All of us here from every island are here to support Maui and this is Maui, West Maui is not alone in this and we’re going to be here for you people as long as we have to be here.”
* Staff writer Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected].