For displaced West Maui residents, hotel rooms are their homes for now

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Feb 03, 2024

For displaced West Maui residents, hotel rooms are their homes for now

Aug 29, 2023 Lahaina resident Kekoa Mowat (left) describes the challenges his family and town face while speaking alongside his son, Connor Mowat, Monday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort &

Aug 29, 2023

Lahaina resident Kekoa Mowat (left) describes the challenges his family and town face while speaking alongside his son, Connor Mowat, Monday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAANAPALI — After losing their Lahaina home and spending nine days at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, the Green family was moving out and heading for Haiku on Monday.

The family has been displaced since their rental home on Kelawea Street burned in the Aug. 8 fire. Going from only having the bags that they evacuated with to a luggage cart filled with mostly donated belongings, Katyana Green said, “if we didn’t have to get our kids enrolled in school, we would’ve stayed longer.”

She and her husband, Dylan, have a blended family with three children, ages 9, 8 and one month.

“The Hyatt was amazing to us, but my husband and I are both current employees, so they were definitely available for all of our needs,” she said.

The family is now renting in Haiku on a month-to-month basis. She said they are waiting on Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance for their rental.

Lahaina resident Connor Mowat wipes away tears while speaking alongside his father, Kekoa Mowat, Monday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.

“I’ve applied and they are currently saying I don’t qualify even though we are a family of 5 and our house was completely burned to the ground,” she said. “I am still calling every day to try to get it figured out.”

The Family Assistance Center at the Hyatt has been trying to help families like the Greens. On Monday, people seeking help or sheltering at the Hyatt sat on chairs near the ballroom area, with some eating and talking, and another petting her dogs.

Gov. Josh Green, who visited the center again on Monday, told media that 6,000 people are being housed in hotels and rentals such as Airbnbs. He also assured residents that housing help will be available for them, whether it takes weeks or months.

The center continues to serve as a one-stop shop of resources and services for those affected by the wildfires and includes major agencies such as FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration, American Red Cross and Salvation Army. The center is also a site to provide DNA samples to assist in locating loved ones and receive some medical services, as well as mental health and spiritual care services. The Maui County Bar Association is also helping with legal information.

Anita Ahuja, who is the director of the victim/witness program for the Maui County Department of the Prosecuting Attorney and is serving as the director of the Family Assistance Center, encouraged anyone who needs help to visit, including people who are undocumented or not U.S. citizens.

Lahaina born-and-raised Dr. Kimmie Ouchi of Kaiser Permanente is helping to provide medical services at the Hyatt’s Family Assistance Center.

“If you need help this is a safe place to come, so please come and seek services,” Ahuja said Monday afternoon.

Ahuja said close to 2,000 people have sought help from the center. There is even a play area for children staffed by the Red Cross so parents can focus on seeking assistance.

Helping at the center was Dr. Kimmie Ouchi, a family medicine doctor and Kaiser Permanente Lahaina Clinic Section Chief. She said Kaiser’s Lahaina Clinic burned down. Born and raised in Lahaina, Ouchi was an outstanding champion tennis player from Lahainaluna who later attended Seabury Hall.

Ouchi said there were tears and “lots of hugs” when she saw people from Lahaina whom she knows as she helped with Kaiser’s outreach clinics in West Maui. She and hospitalist Dr. Deeva Berera of Kaiser Permanente have been delivering care in West Maui.

“We are just happy to get back out here on the west side and help the community,” Ouchi said.

A displaced Lahaina family leaves the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa Monday afternoon. The Green family lost their rental home in Lahaina and spent nine days at the Hyatt before heading out to a rental in Haiku on Monday.

The physicians said some people don’t want to venture to Central Maui for care for various reasons, including not wanting to drive past the burn zones, not having cars or just wanting to stay close to home, so it is essential to have medical care where the people are.

Displaced employees who are staying at the hotel are also helping out. This includes Kekoa Mowat, director of safety and security at the Hyatt, and son Connor Mowat, a front office manager.

Kekoa Mowat said that out of 84 family members, 56 are now houseless.

“We are from one end of Lahaina to another. From Wahikuli to Puamana,” he said.

Kekoa Mowat also teared up speaking about how many people need a place to live and said that “all of Lahaina needs help.”

Maui Humane Society staffer Lauren Whitley gives Lahaina pooch Miya a preliminary check Monday at the mobile clinic set up in a corner of the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa parking lot.

Connor Mowat explained that everyone knows each other in West Maui. He said he was fortunate that his immediate family was able to escape the fire, but “we still have a bunch of family out there that are still missing.”

“To see our friends and family go though this and looking for people, that’s the tough part for everyone,” Connor Mowat said.

However, he believed the community would be resilient.

“We are going to rebuild. We are going to be back. But we cannot bring people back and that’s the tough part,” he said.

Kekoa Mowat added that “the support from the workplace has been tremendous.” He recalled opening up the freezers to feed folks in the hours and days after the fire and being at the hotel when electricity was out. He said that the support they have seen from the Hyatt is being reciprocated by other hotels to their employees and survivors as well.

The Mowat family has been taking up the Hyatt’s 21st floor and has been getting three meals a day, Kekoa Mowat said.

Kekoa Mowat said he is fearful of what is to come and if they will still receive help in the future.

“We know we are going to fade out of the spotlight and that’s the biggest fears,” he said.

He pointed to the housing crisis that residents were facing even before the fire.

“The west side had problems with housing before we lost out houses, so to find someplace for us to stay for a short time is going to be tough,” he said.

“That’s the fear — how do we pay the mortgage and rent?”

He added that Maui was already seeing a disaster before the fire, with the winds creating havoc, trees falling down and cars getting smashed. Referencing the many lawsuits and attorneys coming forward, he said, “to blame anybody is wrong.”

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault,” he said. “It was a natural disaster.”

* Staff Writer Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected].

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