With hundreds of people still missing following the deadly wildfires that swept through parts of Maui on Tuesday, residents and local officials are imploring the thousands of tourists who normally line the island’s coastline to stay home.
Some residents and officials pointed at examples of tourists crossing citizen aid convoys or trying to enter the Lahaina area over the weekend.
On Saturday, West Maui councilwoman Tamara Paltin said on Facebook Live that residents in the Leiali’i and Punakea had reported seeing several tourists arriving in the neighborhoods.
When asked what they were doing there, she said the tourists told residents they had reservations. County officials opened limited access to Lahaina to residents and tourists with reservations on the island’s west side.
“We don’t want to be seeing people on vacation when we’re trying to pull our lives back together. We don’t want our roads closed because tourists can’t follow directions. If you’re a tourist, don’t come to Lahaina. I don’t care if you have reservations, now is not the time. Go someplace else, please,” she said.
The plea came on the heels of another video which went viral earlier in the week of tour company Maui Snorkeling bringing tourists to snorkel in waters off the main highway into Lahaina – the same waters crews are searching in an effort to find the now missing residents who jumped into it to flee the flames.
The tour company posted an apology on its social media for running the tour, adding their intent was to donate 100% of the proceeds to the Maui Food Bank. They also said they offered their vessel to deliver supplies throughout the week, but that the boat’s design wasn’t appropriate for the task.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, many tourists have already heeded the call to leave. At least 46,000 people have flown out of Maui’s Kahului airport since Wednesday.
Hawaii’s governor, Josh Green, has said he will not be shutting down travel to the county because of the importance of the tourism industry to Maui’s economy.
Green said 500 hotel rooms will be made available for displaced locals, and 500 set aside for aid workers from the Federal Emergency and Management Agency (Fema). The governor also said he wants the state to work with Airbnb to make sure that rental homes can be made available for locals with the hopes of providing three- to nine-month rentals for those who lost their homes.
Currently, some hotels are still without power, and some that are closed, like the Montage Kapalua Bay has recently established an emergency fund to assist its workers.
Several that are open are deterring guests from traveling due to limited resources for residents.
Tourism had already been a point of contention in Maui before the fires, with residents complaining about the large number of tourists visiting the island every year leading to overcrowding and the continued displacement of Native Hawaiians, and draining resources. Many Native Hawaiians and generational families have said they have felt left out of the government relief effort.
In order to mitigate traffic issues with tourists, Maui county has issued placards for West Maui residents , as well as county employees, first responders, medical and utility personnel, supply transport and volunteers.
However, the move was poorly communicated, said councilwoman Paltin, with residents left to direct traffic, not even aware that the event was to take place.
Meanwhile, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has intensified its pleas with upcoming visitors making other plans.
“In the weeks ahead, the collective resources and attention of the federal, state and county government, the West Maui community and the travel industry must be focused on the recovery of residents who were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses,” the agency said.
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