A bipartisan congressional delegation met Green on a tour of communities impacted by the fires in Lahaina and Upcountry.

Standing before a gaggle of local reporters and Washington politicians, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green struggled to hold back his tears as he discussed what happened in Lahaina on Aug. 8.

He recounted the story of a 15-year-old boy — someone about the same age as his daughter — who took his family’s car to save his 8-year-old brother and their mother who was trapped down on Front Street as the fires raged around them.

“He’s driving for the first time and getting them out alive,” Green said. “Can you imagine not only that moment, but what that does to him psychologically?”

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green speaks with U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman and other members of the House Natural Resources Committee during a visit to the Lahaina disaster zone Monday. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Green’s comments were part of a daylong trip to Maui in which he revisited the disaster zone to talk to a bipartisan congressional delegation from the House Natural Resources Committee and meet with survivors, including hundreds who lost their homes and are now staying at Hyatt Regency in Kaanapali.

The governor told the lawmakers, who were led by Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, that Hawaii will need all the help it can get from the federal government as the islands recover from the deadliest wildfire in modern U.S. history.

“We need help now, we really do,” Green said. “I’m a doctor turned governor so I was in the ER for a lot of years and I saw one-off tragedies. I never ever in my entire life saw something like this.”

U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda, a member of Hawaii’s congressional delegation who also met with the visiting lawmakers, reiterated Green’s position, saying that Congress needs to respond to the disaster in Lahaina the same way it did when Covid-19 ravaged the country.

“We need to make sure the resources are there quickly because every single day when we go out there and talk to people we see the hurt, we see the pain,” Tokuda said. “And it hurts because we can’t act urgently enough to help folks who literally lost everything.”

Green and Tokuda’s pleas came as Congress is considering a short-term spending deal, or continuing resolution, that would temporarily fund the government before it runs out of money on Sept. 30.

The hope is that any spending bill would include billions of dollars in new disaster aid, some of which would come to the islands.

President Joe Biden has already requested Congress to approve the funds through a supplemental funding request that also seeks more money for the war in Ukraine, which has become a political flashpoint for some in the Republican Party.

Westerman, the Republican chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, assured Green that Maui won’t be forgotten and said that he has already talked to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy about making his own visit to the island.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, speaks with U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green and others during a visit to the Lahaian disaster zone. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

“This devastation until you walk through and see it you really don’t get a good grasp for it,” Westerman said. “This is a high priority. We want to be here to help. We don’t want to get in the way.”

Green told Civil Beat that McCarthy is considering coming to Maui on Saturday, although the details have yet to be confirmed.

McCarthy’s visit would come nearly two weeks after Biden toured the disaster area. The speaker has been critical of the administration’s response and has floated the idea of launching a congressional inquiry into the disaster.

For his part, Green, a Democrat, has tried to avoid any discussion of politics, and even noted as much when talking with Westerman and other members of the House Natural Resources Committee.
He told Civil Beat he would be honored if McCarthy visited Hawaii just as he was when Biden touched down on Aug. 21.

“I’m very grateful when anyone decides it’s important to come and help us with this recovery,” Green said. “I think that anyone who sees the suffering that went on here they are going to want to help us rebuild.”

Green’s visit to the Valley Isle on Monday included a trip to Kula Lodge where he met with Upcountry residents and business owners who lost their homes or otherwise were impacted by the fires. Some 19 homes were destroyed by the Kula and Olinda fires.

Among them was Megan Nakashima, president of Pukalani Superette. She told Green that the community was able to rally together to support itself as Lahaina burned, but that it’s critical that those Upcountry are not forgotten.

“We take care of each other up here, but typically Upcountry has been ignored,” she said. “There’s a lot of people working and they need help. They need real help.”

The message seemed to resonate with the governor. Throughout the day, including during his trip to Kula Lodge, he openly shared his cell phone number with survivors, telling them that they could reach out to him directly at any time.

Meanwhile, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen held a press conference Monday evening saying that the county has identified 55 of the 115 deceased. The two most recent victims to be identified publicly are Eugene Recolizado, 50, and Mark Kaminsky, 59, both of Lahaina.

The mayor continued to seek the public’s help in identifying those on the list of 388 people who remain unaccounted for.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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