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Close to Tragedy in Maui


Last updated 9/14/2023 at 11:59am

Sometimes vacations just don't turn out as expected. Sylvia Maas, resident of the De Anza Country Club, decided to take a breather between cycling races and training, and chill out with friends for a few days at her family home in Maui. Her vacation was unexpectedly cut short, leaving her and her guests, dealing with the tragedy of Lahaina.

Maas, who had been coming to Maui twice a year since she was five, arrived at her home on August 3. Fortunately, her home was about two miles from Lahaina and the burn area. She was far enough away and out of touch with cellular devices to be aware of the disaster unfolding only miles from her.

"There was smoke, but I thought it was from a brush fire in Kula, which is common, Maas said. "I wasn't aware there was a red flag warning covering most of Hawaii, due to Hurricane Dora and the potential for wildfires."

After a few days on her own, Maas went to pick up her friends at the Kahului Airport. One of her friends' planes was delayed, so they waited to pick her up, then headed home.

"There was a good deal of traffic, but I thought people were leaving because of Hurricane Dora, I still didn't have a clue about the tragedy happening in Lahaina, she said.

"On the highway, we passed a gas station that had just exploded from the fire, leaving a terrible mess of mangled and burnt cars. I am sure there were fatalities. I do believe, if Christina's plane had not been late, we would have been involved in the explosion.

As Maas neared her home, she was shocked when they were turned back by the National Guard, and still didn't realize that Lahaina was burning, but they were getting signals that something big was happening.

"I needed to get things from the house. All I was carrying was my wallet, but when it seemed I wasn't going to get into my house, we went into town to eat breakfast, trying to figure out where we could stay safe, given the circumstances," she said. "It was like an out of body experience, everywhere we went people were in tears and crying: they had lost a home, a business, or a family member was on the list of missing persons. The burning of downtown Lahaina was a tragedy in so many ways.

Maas added, "It was a personal tragedy for all the people of Maui. Lahaina was one of the oldest government settlements and homes of the royal ruling families. The old buildings, constructed of wood, some with thatched roofs, and loaded with termites, were a feast for the fast moving, hungry flames. Flames that were hot enough to melt a car."

"The fire was not only fueled by the town's old infrastructure, but by the high winds of Hurricane Dora, which impeded fire responders and grounded firefighting helicopters. Everything was made worse by the loss of electricity and the ability to communicate. It was difficult to know what was happening, phones didn't work, and people we talked to were often as much in the dark as us."

According to Maas, "There is no way to put a dollar on the loss because it's irreplaceable. However, developers and real estate sales people were already competing to make a quick buck. They are planning everything from a memorial park to a super tourist town."

Something that reported sources claim, has infuriated the locals as, not only disrespectful to the people who died, but an affront to the ancestral value of Lahaina.

Maas said that, "There is hope the ancient Banyan tree, an iconic symbol of old Hawaii and tourist attraction, can be saved, despite the bark being severely burnt."

"The tree's ginormous roots of the 60-foot tree are beneath the ground and evidently appeared healthy. Arborists are feeding it water and nutrients daily, hoping to save the burned and scorched tree."

She added, "The tree's return will be a symbol of renewal and resilience for the people. Anyone who has been to Hawaii has been to Maui; anyone who has been to Maui has been to Lahaina; everyone who's been to Lahaina has a picture standing in front of the Banyan tree."

To contribute in the aid of Maui, consider donating to the Lahaina humane society, the American Red Cross, and other reputable non-profits that are needed to help the people and pets of Lahaina.

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