A Maui Recovery Update

Undoubtedly 2023 was a year of extreme weather events across the U.S.

The governor of Hawai’i, Josh Green, stated in a news report that the wildfires were the "worst natural disaster that Hawaii ever faced." He blamed the deadly blazes on a combination of weather conditions, linking them to climate change.

In early August 2023, a series of wildfires devastated Hawaii, predominantly on the island of Maui. These wind-fueled blazes led to evacuations, extensive destruction, and claimed about 100 lives, leaving some individuals unaccounted for in Lahaina on Maui's northwest shore. The escalation of the wildfires was linked to the dry, gusty conditions arising from a high-pressure system north of Hawaii and the presence of Hurricane Dora to the south.

In response to the devastation, the Hawai‘i Conference adopted a matrix of data points that we believe helped to guide us into best practices and engagement with partners in responding to the Maui fires. We explored and reviewed:

  • tangible and non-tangible assistance
  • sources of funds and the expectations those sources placed upon the funds’ use
  • ecumenical partnerships including the ELCA Pacifica Synod and the National Presbyterian [PC(USA)] Disaster Assistance, and sister associations in the Hawai‘i Conference
  • channels to dispense funds such as local congregations and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD)
  • phases of recovery with an eye toward emerging and long-term recovery needs. We have been told it will be 1.5 - 2 years before rebuilding can begin and with the damage in Lahaina, we anticipate a 7- to 10-year process
  • the needs of Waiola Church, where we are seeking to ensure that members of the church are in the driver’s seat when it’s time to rebuild

By the fall of 2023, $400,000 had been received for Maui relief efforts.

Based upon this matrix, our response plan includes 1) a three-year commitment of intentional support from Maui clergy that consists of counseling, peer groups, and paid time off; 2) an emerging needs focus that will assist with rental payments, down payments on new cars, food and water security, and economic support for families, individuals, and the Maui economy through the purchase and distribution of gift cards and gas cards; and 3) long-term recovery work that is approximately 1.5 - 2 years ahead.

We are also projecting recovery work to include temporary housing, while continuing to utilize the work of our local congregations, as they assess needs in their areas. We aim to be proactive with unmet needs that other VOAD groups are not set up to meet, such as assistance with home furnishings, once the homes are rebuilt.

We invite you to remember Maui in your prayers and continue to financially support the vital road of recovery ahead by visiting: https://support.ucc.org/hawaii-wildfires.

Dave Popham
Rev. Dr. David K. Popham is the Conference Minister of the Hawai'i Conference, United Church of Christ. Ordained by the American Baptist Church in 1992, he was granted Privilege of Call in the United Church of Christ in 1995. After pastoring two local churches for 11 years, Rev. Popham also served as Associate Conference Minister with the Rocky Mountain and Central Atlantic Conferences.