CHICAGO — Wildfires on Maui have now killed more than 55 people and wiped out the historic town of Lahaina in the state’s deadliest natural disaster since the 1960s.
The devastation on the island hits close to home for Chicagoland residents with family living in Lahaina. Some locals are now working to help their loved ones pick up the pieces.
“The whole western part of Lahaina is just gone, the history, there’s so many people that need everything,” said Mundelein resident Janet Spangle, whose sister lost her home and belongings.
As Hawaii’s governor, Joshua Green, announced Friday residents should be able to return to their homes following the evacuations, many won’t have a place to go home to.
Juliet Amano’s family, including her mother and sister, lost their home in the wildfires.
“It’s not only my family, it’s the whole community,” Amano said. “It’s the residents, my neighbors, my other cousins; the whole town’s gone, so what are they gonna do next?”
It’s a question on the mind of many who are left to pick up the pieces after their homes and livelihoods were devastated.
In the initial aftermath, Amano said her family members were separated and drove around frantically to find one another, but eventually learned everyone was physically safe.
“My mom – it was so good to hear her voice,” Amano said. “She said, ‘We lost everything. But I said, ‘You didn’t lose your hope.”
It’s hope that they’re hanging on to as they work to navigate where they go from here.
Amano grew up in historic Lahaina but has lived in the Chicagoland area for around 20 years. Seeing the images of the place she called home for decades, has been overwhelming, to say the least.
“It’s been hard. I cried a lot seeing my elementary school is gone, the historic town of Lahaina is gone,” she said.
Amano said her mom and sister left their home grabbing what they could. They had no idea it would be the last time they saw the home that holds decades of memories.
“My dad built it with his brother and my cousins from the ground up,” she said.
As she shares their story, she reminds everyone, how many people need help.
“For somebody to just get on there and donate what they can, it’s not only my family, it’s the whole community,” she said. “It’s overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s very heartwarming to have people who doesn’t even know my family,”
Like many others doing what they can to lend a hand, Amano created a GoFundMe to help with necessities and rebuilding for her family. In the first 15 hours alone, it surpassed five thousand dollars.
It’s that kind of support and love her own family has received, that she says everyone on the island needs right now.
“It’s going to take some time, but it’s really hard to imagine one day it’s there and now it’s gone,” she said.
Janet Spangle says she’s grateful her sister was able to escape, but the stories of what she and many others have witnessed, is a lot to take in.
“All of a sudden a friend of hers came running over from her house in a panic and said her house was on fire,” Spangle said.
On August 8, Spangle said her sister, Sue, was enjoying her birthday. She had to adjust plans due to high winds, instead staying close to home for a picnic with her neighbors.
“Because the wind was so strong, they didn’t even know there was a fire coming, and the warnings and phone systems were down as well,” she said.
As stories of harrowing escapes emerge, many residents say there were no warnings about what was happening.
Spangle said her sister grabbed her cat, her car keys and purse, and with no shoes on, sped out of town, finding themselves in a line with hundreds of other cars.
“They ended up just sitting there for a few hours, watching the town burn basically, and they said it looked like flames were shooting hundreds of feet in the air at this point,” she said.
Finally able to make it to a safe place, Spangle said her sister wasn’t able to find a hotel with space but eventually they were able to get food and water. For two days, she spent the night in her car with her cat and friend. They eventually made it to the high country to a friend’s home, where they were able to shower and get out of the car.
“As of now, her and her friends are homeless,” she said.
Spangle said one of her sister’s friend saw animals running down the street as her friend ran to escape the flames.
“People screaming, and one woman was on fire and a boat captain saw her and threw her into the harbor,” she said. “So that person survived, but she had burns. (It’s) just horrific, horrific scenes.”
Spangle said her sister must now start from scratch and rebuild a life she worked to create for herself on Maui. As her sister works to find a pet carrier for travel, something she said has been nearly impossible to come by, Spangle started a fundraiser to help her get back on her feet and come back to the place she grew up – at least for now.
“We’re hoping to get her back here over the weekend,” she said.
Like Amano, Spangle said she was relieved to hear her sister’s voice and know she was physically okay.
“We knew she was safe and alive, and my brother actually passed away on the same day, so it ended up being a pretty horrific day for the whole family,” said Spangle.
As Spangle works to help her sister, she hopes others will consider lending a hand to organizations or donation drives, if they are able to.
“Every single building in Lahaina is just gone and all of these people’s homes, their livelihoods, they have nowhere to work, nowhere to live,” she said.