See how one volunteer group organized aid deliveries after fire decimates Lahaina
MAUI, Hawaii - The death toll from the wildfires that swept Maui this week continues to rise. Authorities now say more than 90 people have died, making it the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than 100 years. And on western Maui, residents are still having trouble getting answers.
The fire destroyed much of the historic town of Lahaina.
At Maalaea Harbor, a group of tour boat operators was loading supplies onto boats that usually take people out snorkeling or dolphin watching. They were taking supplies to people still in Lahaina, some people never left.
NPR reporter Jason DeRose spoke to Weekend Edition host Ayesha Rascoe about the trip.
RASCOE: So these tour boats were able to get into the burn zone?
DEROSE: That was the plan. Once they loaded up, we joined them for about a 45-minute boat ride to Lahaina. The green mountains give way to beaches and cliffs that give way to sparkling, cerulean ocean. It is stunning. Jennifer Kogan is one of the tour operators making these supply runs.
JENNIFER KOGAN: We're going to be going just north of Lahaina, since that area is secured. And what we've got with us today are a variety of supplies - water, fuel, a huge donation from Maui Gold pineapples. We've also got bedding, toiletries and everything else, baby supplies...
DEROSE: Also on the boat was Bully Kotter, who's lived on Maui for the past 50 years and in Lahaina itself for 45 years. He's a surf instructor. His home burned down Tuesday. The surfboards he rents out for classes were destroyed.
BULLY KOTTER: I'm angry. There could have been a lot more done to prevent all this. They told us that the fire was completely contained, so we let our guards down. I escaped behind a fire truck fleeing the fire.
DEROSE: Even though Kotter had just experienced this huge personal loss, he was there on the boat to help others.
RASCOE: What happened once you reached Lahaina?
DEROSE: So I should say authorities aren't allowing media into Lahaina, but we could see it from the boat. This is the western, the dry side of Maui. The mountains here aren't green. They're golden. Here's Bully Kotter again.
KOTTER: You can see the entire burn mark. So the fire came across because of the wind. It shifted over the bypass, and then it started making its way to a whole 'nother neighborhood called Wahikuli. Not all of Wahikuli got taken out, but all the coastline of it did. It almost made it to the civic center.
DEROSE: We could see charred buildings and places where there had been buildings. It was like looking at a smile with missing teeth. And then out of nowhere, two jet skis approached the boat we were on, each with a couple of guys on them who were clearly surfers head to toe.
RASCOE: What were surfers doing there?
DEROSE: Well, they were there to help unload supplies, haul them about 100 yards from the boat to the beach. So all these people on the boat handed down cases of water and garbage bags full of ice and boxes of diapers. Over and over again, these two jet skis went back and forth between the boat and the beach.
DEROSE: And on the beach, about a dozen people in bathing suits charging into the ocean, carrying giant package of diapers over their heads, propane tanks, Vienna sausages and loading them into pickup trucks owned by locals waiting to take them to anyone in need.
RASCOE: And you said these people on the tour boat had lost homes and businesses themselves.
DEROSE: You know, Ayesha, that's what was so moving, to see these neighbors caring for each other, filling in gaps not being filled right now by official channels. And when I asked what they were going to do next, they said they'd rest a bit. Then they'd make another supply run on Monday.
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