Aiding Victims of Hawaii Wildfires

Compiled and translated by Wu Hsiao-ting
Information provided by Tzu Chi USA volunteers

Photo by Jamie Puerta

In August 2023, devastating wildfires ravaged the island of Maui in the U.S. state of Hawaii. Fueled by powerful winds from Hurricane Dora, the fires engulfed the historic town of Lahaina, home to 12,000 people. The disaster marked America’s deadliest wildfire in over a century, claiming the lives of 99 residents and leaving over 80 percent of the town’s buildings damaged or destroyed.

Many residents had barely escaped the inferno with their lives, let alone with anything they would need afterwards, so Tzu Chi USA quickly launched a fundraising campaign to provide support. The first aid distribution for survivors took place in Lahaina on August 27, during which cash cards were provided. The financial aid offered much-needed support to survivors, left with almost nothing, enabling them to procure necessary items for their immediate needs.

Matthew Isenberg, a beneficiary of the distribution, recounted the tragic event: “It was unreal. Literally, in one night, you had no job, no home, and your friends were displaced. It was just horrific.” Expressing his gratitude for Tzu Chi, he added, “We really appreciate it [your help] because we can use whatever we can get. I have been wearing somebody else’s clothes for almost three weeks. I’m going to get some clothes for myself.”

Volunteers also offered survivors leis, a garland made of flowers worn around the neck, and Tzu Chi’s signature blankets, made from recycled plastic bottles. Peachie Garcia, holding a blanket from Tzu Chi, remarked, “It’s kind of amazing because last night I was kind of cold and I said, ‘I wish I had an extra blanket,’ and here it is.”

Two doctors from the Tzu Chi International Medical Association offered on-site consultations. Lai Chang-di (賴昌棣), Tzu Chi Hawaii’s deputy CEO and a practicing physician, explained that the free medical service was provided considering the potential respiratory impact of the smoke on residents. “We administered asthma medication to those exhibiting symptoms,” he stated. “We also observed elevated blood pressure levels in many patients, likely also due to the wildfires.”

Tzu Chi held six distributions in the aftermath of the disaster. The assistance reached 1,689 households. Against the backdrop of desolation, the tragedy spurred an outpouring of support, illuminating a path forward from the ashes of despair.

 Photo by Fan Ting

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