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Maui residents begin to discuss how to rebuild

PIEN HUANG, HOST:

We begin today in Maui, where some of the numbers are telling us more about one of the deadliest fires in U.S. history and where the recovery stands. At least 114 people have been killed. Authorities say nearly 80% of the burned area has been searched, and FEMA says nearly 6,000 people affected by the fire have registered for federal assistance. And that's more than $5 million have already been distributed. NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from Maui with more. Hey, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi.

HUANG: So, Greg, on Friday night, Hawaii's governor gave an address about the fire and the future. What did he have to say?

ALLEN: Well, you know, it was just a short speech, but he said 2,200 buildings were destroyed in Lahaina, and 500 more were damaged at a cost of some $6 billion. And he was joined by his wife, Jaime Kanani Green, who talked about the loss that this represents for Native Hawaiians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAIME KANANI GREEN: More than 200 years ago, King Kamehameha I unified our islands and made Lahaina the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom. Over two centuries, with their aloha, their dedication and their hard work, the people of Lahaina built their town into a special place.

HUANG: Greg, it's such a sorrowful time. I'm wondering how people are dealing with this almost unimaginable level of loss.

ALLEN: Well, you can imagine there's a lot of mourning going on still here and will be for some time. Here's the scene yesterday at a beachside park in Lahaina where a group of community activists, some of them Native Hawaiian, held a press event.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

ALLEN: Tiare Lawrence, who grew up in Lahaina, had a message that she delivered to the governor.

TIARE LAWRENCE: The fire occurred only 10 days ago, and many people are still in shock and mourning. The governor should not rush to rebuild the community without first giving people time to heal, especially without including the community itself in the planning.

HUANG: Greg, what are officials saying?

ALLEN: Yeah. Well, you know, yesterday in Lahaina, reporters were asking Mayor Richard Bissen about the many missing people. There's hundreds still unaccounted for officially, and reporters are asking him about are those numbers real. He said that many so far have turned out to be staying with friends and family, and many others just haven't reported in yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARD BISSEN: Obviously, there's no one left in that area that would be alive. So it would only be someone who made, you know, made arrangements to stay at some somewhere else and hasn't reached out yet.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So are you hopeful that the great majority of those still unaccounted for could be alive?

BISSEN: Well, of course, I'm hopeful that everyone that is not accounted for is alive, yes.

HUANG: And Greg, what about the people displaced from the fire? Where are they staying?

ALLEN: Well, many have been in shelters, but the county says the numbers there have dropped significantly in recent days as people have begun moving into temporary housing, some in hotels and Airbnbs. Others are staying with family and friends. I visited a home, for example, yesterday in Maui, where 87 people have been staying on and off since the fire. But people are now looking for longer-term housing, which - while they consider how to rebuild.

HUANG: And, Greg, what are you hearing about how Lahaina should be rebuilt?

ALLEN: Well, you know, there's a lot of discussions and fears in the air about how Lahaina will be rebuilt. Since the fire, Governor Josh Green has asked the state's attorney general to impose a temporary moratorium on property sales in Lahaina if possible. And there are fears that people will be displaced and the special character of Lahaina could be gone forever. In his address last night, the governor pledged that would not be the case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSH GREEN: Let me be clear. Lahaina belongs to its people, and we are committed to rebuilding and restoring it the way they want it.

ALLEN: And President Biden is scheduled to visit Maui on Monday, and I expect we'll be hearing more then about rebuilding.

HUANG: That's NPR's Greg Allen. He's joining us from Maui. Thanks so much for joining us, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.