Lahaina residents face long wait to rebuild

2023-08-21 10:06:34China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

When the smoke started to blacken the sky and the wind was howling, Mike Cicchino, a resident and business owner in Lahaina, on the western coast of Maui, Hawaii, decided to drive to a hardware store to get a generator because the power was out.

That was about 3:30 pm on Aug 8. As soon as he turned the corner from his street, "I see pandemonium", the New York Post quoted him as saying. "I see people running and grabbing their babies and screaming and jumping in their cars."

He had only a few moments to make decisions that would determine whether he and his wife lived or died in a race against the fast-approaching fire.

Cicchino said he made a U-turn, ran into his house and told his wife they had to leave immediately. They and their five dogs got in the car and followed others to the main highway — the only road in and out of Lahaina — but it was cut off by barricades set up by authorities. They could go no further.

Black smoke enveloped them, cars and propane tanks were exploding, embers were flying over their car and they had to abandon it. They ran to the beach and saw dead bodies next to a seawall as other people screaming ran with them.

He and his wife took off their shirts, dunked them in the water and covered their faces. He helped elderly and disabled people to get over the seawall. Some were badly burned.

For the next five or six hours, the Cicchinos moved back and forth between sea and shore, they said. Their surviving dogs' fur was singed.

"My mind kept going back to: This has got to be just a nightmare," the Post quoted Cicchino as saying. "This cannot be real. This cannot actually be happening. But then you realize you're burning. I'm feeling pain, and I don't feel pain in nightmares."

Many Lahaina residents jumped into the sea to escape the fire. Some drowned. In one case a resident, Jubee Bedoya, spent hours in the ocean clutching a piece of plywood with one arm while holding a stranger's 2-year-old child as fire was destroying the historic town.

Many Lahaina residents have told horrifying stories about escaping the fire, and many are now overcome with anxiety and post-traumatic stress that experts say could be long-lasting.

The Associated Press quoted another survivor, Anne Landon, 70, as saying that a strong gust would immediately send her back to the terrifying moment when the fire took over her apartment at a senior complex.

"It's a trigger. The wind was so horrible during that fire."

Temporarily living in a shelter at the South Maui Community Park Gymnasium, she has twice sought help in recent days to cope with anxiety.

"I personally could hardly talk to people. Even when I got an internet connection and people reached out, I had trouble calling them back."

Too much to bear

On a bed next to her, Candee Olafson, 65, said the trauma of escaping the fire and experience with depression became too much to bear. She had a nervous breakdown.

"Everything culminated — I finally just lost it," she told AP.

Dana Lucio, a licensed mental health counselor with the Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii, who is helping support survivors, said she has been going to different donation centers around Lahaina, sometimes door to door, to be present for people and give them a shoulder to cry on.

The AP quoted Lucio, a former Marine who was deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, as saying she can understand some of their emotions because she has experienced post-traumatic stress.

"This is not something their brains were prepared to understand. There is going to be a need for ongoing therapy."

On Friday Justin Michaels of the US TV network The Weather Channel was asking residents near a beach how they were coping. His video on showed a car park next to the beach in Lahaina with Wi-Fi and a charging station. This enabled people to charge their phones, access the internet and communicate with friends and loved ones, as most people still lacked power and communication services.

One man said he had been given a temporary room at a resort because his house burned down. Sitting by a park table, he said: " (I) just jump in the water, get off the island, and leave everything behind for a minute. It definitely brings you back down and calms your spirit. I don't know what's going to happen, none of us do. Everything is up in the air. Everything I've known from the last eight years was destroyed."

Many residents expressed disappointment about how authorities handled the fire and subsequent rescues and voiced skepticism about their ability to help them. Some turned to the online fundraiser GoFundMe for help.

Mike Cicchino's mother Susan Ramos started an account to raise money to help the young couple rebuild their lives.

Cicchino and his wife Adrea have a 4-year-old daughter, the New York Post said. They lost their home, vehicles and two businesses in the fire and are now homeless and unemployed. The couple suffered burns on their faces, feet and hands.

In the 19 hours he survived the apocalyptic scene, Cicchino said, he helped save more than 40 lives.

By Friday afternoon the account for the couple was said to have raised more than $58,000 of the $100,000 it is seeking.

Related news


Most popular in 24h

MoreTop news


Back to top About Us | Jobs | Contact Us | Privacy Policy
Copyright ©1999-2023 All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
[网上传播视听节目许可证(0106168)] [京ICP证040655号]
[京公网安备 11010202009201号] [京ICP备05004340号-1]