Residents of Maui are calling on President Joe Biden to honor his promises of reconstruction to the people of Lahaina after the devastating wildfires that have plagued the island. Biden and his family made an emotional five-hour flight to meet with those forced from their homes, with the plan of helping to “build back better.” However, one resident has expressed her desire for the people of Maui to rebuild the way they want.
Alicia Kalepa, a Maui resident, confronted President Biden’s statement of “building back better” when they met in person on Monday.
“As far as building a ‘better’ community or ‘better’ homes than what we had—I unfortunately didn’t like that,” Kalepa said to Hawaii News Now. “For Kapuna and for the Lahaina family, and for a lot of people that had lost what they had lost, there’s no replacing that, there’s no ‘better,’ there’s no ‘new.'”
Kalepa referred to older generations of the island’s residents, known as “Kapuna,” as individuals who would never be able to fully rebuild the structures they had lost in the tragedy.
“Forgive me, if I might have misunderstood him, but that didn’t sit very well with my heart,” she said. “We appreciate him coming to see what had happened, the devastation. He is now speaking to some families, which we greatly appreciate, but I’m going to hold him to what he said: building it the way that we want it.”
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said Monday that 850 names are currently on a list of missing people. “We are both saddened and relieved about these numbers as we continue the recovery process,” Bissen said. “The number of identified will rise, and the number of missing may decrease.”
At the Lahaina Civic Center, the president made an effort to lighten the mood, as he stopped to pet a search and rescue dog that was wearing boots and quipped to the press, “You guys catch the boots out here?” He smiled and said, “That’s some hot ground, man.”
Biden’s response to the catastrophe has received some criticism, though he did take the time to come out and meet the people affected by the fires. He is still promising to rebuild the island “better.” Whether or not President Biden will honor the wishes of the people of Maui and rebuild the island the way they want it is up in the air until his actions that follow his words make it more of a reality. For now, residents are hoping he will keep his promise.