Maui wildfire’s impact to their natives in the Lowcountry

Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 3:50 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 16, 2023 at 7:54 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - With the death toll up to rising into the hundreds from the Maui wildfires, it’s even impacting some a little closer to home.

Halienna Heath grew up on the big island until she was 15 and has lived in Charleston ever since.

“They told me, basically, it looked like war out there,” Heath said.

She says in the last week, her mom, uncle and aunt have all lost their homes in Lahaina. Her uncle’s wife just had a baby two days ago, meaning she was dealing with being very pregnant in the middle of this disaster.

“People are actually bringing in so many essentials that are needed and people are literally dying on their watch without the medications that they need,” Heath said. “...The islanders, they feel alone, and they all had to get together and share their own personal supplies.

Heath says the islanders were notified late of contaminated water and about when to evacuate.

“So angry for them because I can’t imagine how my people feel over there,” Heath said. “They must feel so isolated feeling like none of this is being broadcasted and they’re literally calling out for help on social media because that’s the only way you can reach out to people.”

Heath says the most help her family has been getting is from direct donations sent to them and from other islanders who have been working together to spread the wealth. She warns folks back on the mainland that if you’re sending donations through larger organizations, like Red Cross, you don’t really know how soon it could get to the people most in need.

A spokesperson for the American Red Cross of South Carolina provided the following statement on the devastating fires:

During this frustrating and uncertain time, the American Red Cross and our partners are working tirelessly to get help to people as quickly as possible. Red Cross disaster teams are working 24/7 to provide them with a safe place to stay, food to eat and emotional support. Red Cross emergency shelters are serving as multi-purpose service centers where people can access hot meals, relief supplies, health, mental health and spiritual care services, support with finding loved ones and casework assistance.

Since the fires began, the Red Cross and the county government have provided more than 4,200 overnight shelter stays in 12 emergency shelters on Maui and Oahu. With the help of partners, we have provided more than 28,600 meals and snacks to people in need. More than 300 trained Red Cross disaster workers — from Maui, other Hawaiian islands and all corners of the country — are helping now with more on their way. Disaster workers are also virtually helping people affected by the fires.

We are working with our partners to get help to where it is needed as quickly as possible. This includes moving more relief supplies to Maui from the continental U.S. and distributing food and relief supplies as soon things are in place to make this possible. Our work in Hawaii is just beginning. The Red Cross was helping people before the fires started and will be there in the weeks and months to come helping people recover from this tragedy.

Dano Sayles is a board of director for the nonprofit Maui Food Bank. He says he’s tried to stay positive throughout the chaos and is thankful that everyone is coming together to help one another during this tragedy.

“We’d like to ask for financial donations because our purchasing power is so great that every dollar given could feed like four families,” Sayles said.

Heath wants people in the Lowcountry to know that her people are still in desperate need of basic supplies from food to baby formula to feminine products.

“I feel like people should definitely put themselves in their shoes,” Heath said. “Like if South Carolina went up in flames, I’m hoping that other people around us would help out.”

She wants to make sure people are sending donations directly to those most in need.

“I hope this helps my people back at home,” Heath said. “Give them a voice.”

A list of ways to make direct donations to the islanders:

‘Hope for Hawaii’

If you want to help those affected by the wildfires, Live 5 and Gray Media have partnered with the Salvation Army to meet the needs of survivors and first responders, bringing food, shelter, hygiene items and emotional and spiritual care. To donate: Text FIRERELIEF to 51555.