Long lines of fire survivors underscores demand for help on Maui

Aug. 27—Related Photo Gallery: Federal Resource Fair held in Lahaina

LAHAINA >> The ongoing needs of evacuees and survivors from the Lahaina fire were best illustrated by the 100 to 200 people who lined up outside the Lahaina Civic Center gym on Saturday nearly two hours before another "help fair" opened to connect needs with services.

U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda, whose congressional district includes the neighbor islands and rural Oahu, organized the event with U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and opened the doors to the gym nearly an hour early to let fire survivors inside the air-conditioned gym.

Several evacuees said they have been approved for aid — or are still waiting for approval — from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But long lines continued to stretch for help getting replacement passports, Social Security cards, birth certificates and other "vital documents."

Another long line led to a station simply labeled "housing."

Many of the survivors are immigrants, such as Edmar Fontanilla, 41, and his wife, Elena, 42, who said they lost their "alien cards," and needed help from FEMA and the American Red Cross.

Edmar — with the help of his four daughters ages 11 through 21 — applied for FEMA aid online but has not gotten a response.

"That's why we're here," daughter Aloha Joy, 21, said. "We have to find out."

The family lost the five-bedroom, three-bath, one-story home on Lahainaluna Road they rented from Elena's sister, which should qualify them for some form of rental assistance.

Also lost in the fire were seven cars, 20 dirt bikes and a moped.

Aloha Joy lost her driver's license, Social Security card and debit cards in the fire.

Edmar, a cook at the Monkey Pod Kitchen in Kaanapali, remains out of work because "no tourists or power or electricity," he said.

The family escaped in three different vehicles and Edmar fled in his seafood food truck that he hopes can generate income once the family gets stabilized.

"The house is gone, all gone," added daughter Kelsey, 14. "We didn't have no time. The fire was so close. It was traumatizing. We were all upset."

She made it out with her phone and personal laptop but the fire burned the school laptop she needs as an incoming freshman at Lahainaluna High School.

Roxanne, 66, and Rodney Medeiros, 79, thought their important documents would be protected by a fire-resistant safe in their three-bedroom, one-bath home, also on Lahainaluna Road.

But everything in the safe was destroyed by fire, including their marriage certificate and Rodney's paperwork documenting that he served in the Navy in 1963.

"It's all gone," Rodney said. He, especially, wants to prove he's a veteran "when I need to get buried in a cemetery."

Several evacuees walked around the gym with fistfuls of forms in both hands, trying to navigate the days and weeks ahead before their temporary housing runs out and they have to find more permanent housing — whether elsewhere on Maui or somewhere else.

"Never know how long it's going to take to rebuild," Rodney said.

He predicts "many steps every day" before deciding what the future looks like, but said, "Maui no ka oi."

Some 30% of Lahaina's residents are immigrants, for whom English represents a second language for many, Hirono said.

"The need is great," she said.

Gary, 66, and Leslie Gless, 67, consider themselves among the lucky even after losing their three-bedroom, 2-1/2-bath condo they owned outright on Hoekawela Lane — while their neighbors lost "everything," including family.

They fled the fire in their 2017 Dodge Caravan that they sheltered in during the next few nights at the Napili Market parking lot.

It's a long way from happier times when they would drive their 8-year-old golden retriever, Triscuit, in a Model T up and down Front Street and park it so tourists could ooh and aah over Triscuit, who was known as the Ambassador of Aloha.

They retired to Lahaina from Hollywood, Calif., where Gary built movie and music studio sets and Leslie created clothing patterns for 45 years.

Unlike many whose futures remained unclear Saturday, the Glesses vowed to return to Lahaina one day.

"We want to be back because this is home," Gary said.

Bill, 57, and Stacy Brookland, 51, lost their two-bedroom, 1-1/2-bath "old plantation house" on Aki Street to the Aug. 8 fire, along with their passports, birth certificates and Social Security cards.

Their son, Kai, 21, was born and raised in the house and now plays wide receiver and was named offensive captain at Pacific University in Oregon.

After filling out paperwork at the Lahaina Civic Center, Bill Brookland planned to participate in a fantasy football league draft with Kai to keep his mind from thinking about the long days ahead.

But he also planned to rebuild some day.

"We're staying here," he said. "We're not moving. I'm very focused on getting our lives back together. But I'm not there yet."

Tokuda looked over the crowd Saturday and the lines of people seeking help.

It was the second fair that Tokuda organized and closer to the fire zone compared to the one she quickly arranged in Kihei last weekend.

Based on Saturday's demand for help, Tokuda said she'll likely pull together a third event.

"There's just so much need," Tokuda said. "We need to make sure they apply for everything."