FILIPINOS and Filipino-Americans who are based in Maui, Hawaii are devastated following the raging wildfire that killed at least 89 people in the deadliest such disaster in US history, a Fil-Am community leader said.
Kit Zulueta-Furukawa, member of the board of Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce, said she has no official record on the number of Filipinos affected by the fire but she personally knew some of their members who have lost their homes and are now in emergency shelters. Some have gone missing.
“We are such a tight-knit small community,” the 38-year Filipino immigrant told the BusinessMirror. “Almost everyone is a Filipino. Everyone has a cousin, auntie who is a Filipino. Even the Japanese here, they are part Filipino.”
She said Maui is such a small island that one can drive around the island in three hours.
“Everyone knows almost everybody. We are like one big family. It’s the culture here in Maui. With that said, a pain of one is a pain of all. All are affected by the fires,” she added.
A cursory look at a shared Google Sheet of missing people in Maui fires at https://mauipeople.org shows a number of Filipino-sounding names listed.
On August 7, a series of fires broke out in three areas in Maui—Lāhainā town, Pulehu /Kihei and Upcounty Maui.
Disaster officials estimate 2,207 houses were totally destroyed in the blaze.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said 89 people died from the fire, and they expect the numbers to go up as only 3 percent of the burned area of Lahaina has been thoroughly searched by dogs. Of the 89 casualties, only two were identified.
Wire reports quoted police officials as saying as many as 1,000 people are missing.
Filipinos, Fil-Ams in Maui
When asked if it is safe to assume that there may be “hundreds” among the 1,000 people who were declared missing, Zulueta-Furukawa said,“Yes. But we are hoping that they are alive because the communication is still down.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu also could not ascertain the number of Filipinos affected by the Maui wildfires.
“According to the Maui Police Chief, there are an estimated 1,000 people still missing. There is no breakdown as to ethnicity. So we cannot yet confirm that hundreds of Filipinos are among those missing,” DFA Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega said, quoting a report from the Consulate.
Maui has an estimated Filipino American population of 25,000 people, comprising 17 percent of the population. Most of the Fil-Am population in Maui are naturalized Americans. “Only a few are Filipino citizens,” De Vega said.
Consul General Emil Fernandez said since the wildfire broke out, they have issued advisories in their social media sites for Filipinos to call them if they need the Consulate’s help.
“The Consulate is in touch with local authorities and local community leaders, and so far, they have no information on any Filipino among the reported fatalities,” Fernandez told the BusinessMirror.
There are also Filipino teachers who were hired by the Hawaii Department of Education and are based in Maui under the Exchange Visitor Program.”The Maui-based Filipino teachers are accounted for, safe and in temporary shelters, according to our DOE contacts,” Fernandez added.
Zulueta-Furukawa said Mauians affected by the fire are calling for help, basic needs to survive—food, clothes, medicine, hygiene, gasoline.
“The Consulate continues to monitor the situation and stands ready to assist any Filipino national distressed by the wildfires in Maui,” Fernandez stressed.