Lahaina residents return home to destruction for first time after deadly Maui wildfires
Only some residents will be able to return to their properties for now.
For the first time since the deadly wildfire on Aug. 8, some Lahaina residents will be allowed back into their homes Monday morning in what is expected to be an emotional day in the historic Maui town.
Residents and business owners in some of the first zones to be cleared by the Environmental Protection Agency will be allowed to go into the destruction area with escorts.
Officials warn that the neighborhoods they once called home may be almost unrecognizable.
"I think some people will have a hard time even saying 'this is my property. I can't recognize it anymore,'" said Darryl Oliveira, the interim administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, in a Thursday press conference.
He continued, "So we want to really support them in this process."
About 464 properties have been cleared by the EPA so far. More than 2,200 structures were damaged in the blazes.
Residents will be escorted to the disaster area for the first two visits, so officials, cultural leaders, mental health and healthcare specialists and others can offer support.
"Some [residents] might be looking for closure with recovering personal effects, even right down to if they lost the loved one that is unaccounted for, maybe the collection of something that would give them closure as a memento of that person's passing," said Oliveira.
At least 97 people have been declared dead, with tens of others deemed unaccounted for.
Visitation will be limited to those who are residents and those who are affiliated with properties, as well as anyone needed to accommodate visitors such as insurance adjusters or faith-based leaders for support.
"We're just trying to have a system that we can manage and ensure the right people are going in," said Oliveira. "Again, it's with the utmost respect for the residents and property owners who need to go in, need to have that moment of closure, need that time to grieve.
Residents can then return on their own during their third visit.
Officials said personal protective equipment will be given out, including coveralls, booties, respirators and N95 masks.
West Maui is set to open on Oct. 8, the second-month mark of the wildfire. The decision from local officials has sparked outraged among some residents, who have yet to revisit their destroyed homes and are still displaced.