By Jack Kiyonaga, Editor
“Lahaina is love,” said Christina Nakihei. “If Lahaina and Molokai were brother and sister, they would be twins. It’s the exact same way as back home…Everyone is trying to help each other succeed.”
Nakihei grew up on Molokai and then followed in the footsteps of her father, boarding at Lahainaluna High School.
The connection between Molokai and Lahaina is evident, everywhere. The two communities have been linked for generations.
“Lahaina is just like Molokai, it’s like home,” said Marcus Dudoit. “A lot of Molokai guys used to work in Lahaina. My grandfather used to work in the hotel.”
Dudoit had moved to Lahaina for work back in March. He was living with family when the fire overwhelmed the town on Aug. 8.
Dudoit said they had almost no warning the fire was coming. With only a couple minutes to pack, Dudoit, accompanied by his sisters, older brother and sister-in-law, tried to leave by car before hitting standstill traffic. Finally, they abandoned their car in traffic and took off on foot.
The tragedy unfolded all around him.
“The kupunas were telling us ‘Don’t save us, we’re going to die already,’” he said.
Almost a week later, when Dudoit spoke with The Dispatch, he was wearing the shirt of the Kaialoha Supply where he’d worked in Lahaina, his voice still affected by the smoke.
Dudoit and his siblings were able to make it to an emergency shelter. Their family sent a boat the next day from Molokai to pick them up. Now, Dudoit is helping with relief efforts and dealing with the aftermath.
“I woke up and thought it was all a dream,” said Dudoit. For a couple days he shared a bed with his brother and would wake up feeling to make sure he was still there.
Like many Molokai families, Kim Svetin’s also includes members in Lahaina.
Svetin, who is president of Molokai Drugs, explained that 25 percent of her family is from Lahaina. Family homes of her cousins and aunts, where Svetin had learned to ride a bike, are all gone.
Now, she is focused on continuing to support relief efforts.
“Small things count,” said Svetin. The first item many women in Maui said they needed were simple feminine items like makeup, wallets, nail clippers, soaps and hairbrushes according to Svetin.
To this end, she has been working with local fisherman groups from Molokai doing daily deliveries of meat and supplies to families who live off the grid in Maui in areas severely affected by the fires.
“Most of them don’t have phones, don’t have cash app or Venmo,” explained one boat captain. Our duty is to “remind them that they are not alone” and to “find a way to show our aloha,” he explained.
The Molokai-based nonprofit ‘Aina Momona has also continued to fundraise for Maui, donating $1.25 million to relief efforts.
Cedric Duarte, a spokesman for ‘Aina Momona, explained that “the focus has certainly been on getting resources directly into the hands of those affected.”
Towards this goal, ‘Aina Momona has links on their website where people can give money directly to Maui families.
Duarte likewise explained that “this tragedy has really showcased how island communities can come together and support each other…It speaks to the closeness of our island communities.”
Molokai’s County Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez praised Molokai’s support efforts, while encouraging residents to find a balance between generosity and ensuring the community retains enough resources in worst case scenarios.
“Molokai, we very much want to give but we only get a barge twice a week. We have to remember that we are still in hurricane season… we have to make sure that we are also taking care of our own community so that we are not in a worse off situation if disaster suddenly hits us,” said Rawlins-Fernandez.
Kaunakakai, like Lahaina and many of the county’s older towns, has similarly aging buildings and overhead electrical infrastructure that could contribute to a fire scenario, Rawlins-Fernandez suggested. She encouraged funding be put into burying electrical lines as a preventative measure.
As the true toll of the historically deadly fires continues to rise, Maui County has started to release the identities of victims, with more than 1,000 people still unaccounted for. As of Aug. 18, the number of confirmed victims from the Lahaina fire was at 114, with nearly half of the area still to be searched. The Molokai community mourns the loss of Melva Benjamin, age 71, and Alfredo Galinato, age 79.
While Marcus Dudoit’s home and the store where he worked are gone, he says he plans on returning to Lahaina. For now, he is taking it “one day at a time.”