Maui mayor dismisses criticism of fire response, touts community’s solidarity


(MAUI, Hawaii) — A month after wildfires destroyed parts of Maui, killing at least 115 people and displacing thousands of others, Mayor Richard Bissen said there is still a long road ahead for residents but was confident their solidarity would move them forward.

Bissen spoke with ABC News about the latest recovery updates for the island and remarked how residents have worked to assist those who were most affected by the wildfires.

“What we’re seeing in our community is overwhelming support,” he said. “As devastating as this has been, people are changing their priorities.”

As of Friday, the mayor said that roughly 6,000 people are living in 29 hotels and hundreds more are living in short-term housing. The plan is to get more people into those short-term housing.

“[We’ll] get them out of hotel rooms, [and] get them into places where they can have a washer and dryer kitchen. So I know that’s the plan for the 18-month-period,” the mayor said.

Bissen dismissed criticism from some residents who have complained that they are not being assisted as they navigate the situation. The mayor acknowledged that some people will have their frustrations and concerns but he said that he and other officials are listening.

“I want to meet with our folks and hear from them,” he said.

Bissen added that he’s encouraging residents to talk more with their neighbors and other people in the community and not stick with social media for information.

“We’re stronger together. We know what we want. This is our island, our community, and we’re going to decide on that and not have other influences tell us how we should or need to be,” he said.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told reporters Friday that the number of people missing since the fire was 66. Green also said that travel restrictions to West Maui would be lifted on Oct. 8, a week earlier than the original plan.

The mayor said that tourism is still an important part of the island’s economy and said visitors should still come to Hawaii and explore the parts of Maui that are not off limits.

“I think that we know that people need jobs. We know people need income,” he said.

Bissen reiterated that he and other leaders will be there for the residents for as long as it takes and he is proud of the strength they have shown so far.

“I think our entire community is resilient. Our entire community from young to old. I think a lot of that is a reflection of who they’re around,” he said.

ABC News’ Meredith Deliso contributed to this report.

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