Growing frustration intensifies as relief efforts continue in the aftermath of the Maui fires.
For the residents who remain within the disaster-stricken area on the western side of Maui island in Hawaii, a crucial connection to the external world exists through volunteer efforts.
Captain Emily Johnston commands the Ocean Spirit, a vessel managed by the Pacific Whale Foundation, a marine conservation organization.
Since the beginning, she and her team of volunteers have been conducting numerous trips each day, delivering essential provisions such as food, water, fuel, and clothing to the distressed town of Lahaina and the nearby neighborhoods, which are facing challenges due to power and phone outages.
“These islands go through hurricanes, tsunamis, fires, everything and we’re often having to be very self-reliant because we are isolated,” Emily tells me.
“But that said, we’re all wondering why there was no help sent from Oahu. Pearl Harbour is a twenty-minute flight away.”
“Why are the limited resources of the police on this island left alone, where’s the support for them? Why are we taking supplies on a boat instead of a helicopter?”
An hour into the journey, the devastation along the Maui shoreline comes into view. First the scorched grass and palm trees, then the charred remains of the Lahaina itself and the remnants of the shattered lives and livelihoods.
The boat beaches a few miles north of the town and a waiting team of local residents is there to meet it.
Many of those helping, like 36-year-old Sergio Martinez, have also been affected by the fire.
“I was fighting for my life with my four-year-old boy in my hands in the water for eight hours,” he tells me.
“There was a point in my head when I was thinking that’s it, you know, but my boy kept me going to survive.”
Sergio is still struggling, like so many others, to process what he saw that night. He has the same question as Emily.
“Where is the help?” he asks. “We are waiting for it and we need it really bad.”
Driving through the disaster zone with one of the volunteer relief workers, we see, for the first time, uniformed soldiers helping to man some of the checkpoints. This is a sign perhaps that national assistance is now beginning to arrive.
Either way, the volunteers are certain their relief service will be needed for some time.
“With the communications down for so many days we haven’t been able to coordinate all the supplies that they need,” says Kristie Wrigglesworth, executive director of the Pacific Whale Foundation.
“When we do it by word of mouth it’s very slow and disorganised. We need communication to coordinate better.”
Krisite is calling on those who know people in need to get in touch with her organization to pass on requests for urgent supplies.
Many volunteers have deep roots in Maui and know those suffering personally.
“This community is family,” Kristie says.
“The Hawaiian culture has Ohana – which means family – and Aloha. That was what Lahaina was built on.”