More than 50 educators either lost their homes entirely or suffered enough damage that they had to evacuate, the teachers union said.

Mike Landes is one of the lucky West Maui teachers not directly affected by the Lahaina wildfire and one of many now supporting colleagues who were.

Landes has been teaching at Lahainaluna High School for 20 years and currently lives in Kihei.

“I know that my friends and my colleagues and my students and their families in Lahaina have lost everything,” he said.

The King Kamahameha III School building is photographed Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
King Kamehameha III Elementary was destroyed in the wildfire. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

More than 50 Maui educators either lost their homes entirely or suffered damage to their homes “to the extent that they have to temporarily relocate,” the state teachers union said Sunday, citing initial counts.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association board of directors voted Sunday to allocate $150,000 for disaster relief for union members whose homes and classrooms were destroyed by last week’s wildfires, according to a press release.

King Kamehameha III Elementary, meanwhile was destroyed in the blaze.

Dozens of HSTA members on Maui also have offered to volunteer and assist colleagues in need, HSTA spokesman Keoki Kerr said last week.

Landes is currently housing a colleague and his family who lost their home in Lahaina. The colleague’s wife is a substitute teacher and his daughter is a student at Princess Nahienaena Elementary School.

Arica Lynn-Souza, a science teacher at Lahainaluna High School, was one of the teachers who lost their home.

Her house is “completely consumed, ash, nothing there,” Lynn-Souza said. “Smoke started to overtake our house. I literally threw the kids under my jacket and ran into the car.”

Lynn-Souza thought about sleeping in the car with her husband, two children and two dogs, but ended up driving to a fellow teacher’s house in Kahana.

“I barely even asked her if I could stay, and she immediately opened her door to us,” Lynn-Souza said.

While Lynn-Souza needs financial assistance to start rebuilding her house, she is also calling on the public to support her students. “They need people to talk to, and need people to be there for them,” she said.

The Lahainaluna High School campus remains standing. 

“It’s an absolute miracle … everything around it is destroyed,”  Lynn-Souza said. “This is actually the second time Lahainaluna has made it through serious wildfires.”

The fire tore through King Kamehameha III Elementary school while many students and teachers lost their homes in Lahaina. The school was marked with a yellow X by search and rescue crews combing through the rubble. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Justin Hughey, a special education teacher at King Kamehameha III Elementary, said “When they showed a video from the plane on the news and showed the whole area on fire, I knew it was gone.”

He said considering Maui’s history with strong winds and fires, the state should have warned the residents what to expect. He only received a text message from the principal on Tuesday morning: “Aloha – campus is closed today and I am asking CAS about our teacher workday.”

The four West Maui public school campuses — Lahainaluna High, Lahaina Intermediate, Princess Nahienaena Elementary and King Kamehameha III Elementary — remain closed as officials assess buildings for damage and figure out next steps.

Hughey worries that the Hawaii Department of Education will shift its focus onto student learning loss and said, “none of that is important right now.”

We don’t even know if our kids are still there, if the kids are still alive,” he said. “And then you gotta deal with all the trauma that the kids have gone through.”

Supporting teachers and staff during the relief efforts was essential because “there’s no learning going on if you don’t have shelter, food or water.”

Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.

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