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Convention Center ready to shelter up to 4,000 Maui evacuees

JAMM AQUINO / MAY 20, 2022
                                The Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu will serve as a shelter for up to 4,000 evacuees from the Maui wildfires.
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JAMM AQUINO / MAY 20, 2022

The Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu will serve as a shelter for up to 4,000 evacuees from the Maui wildfires.

The Hawai‘i Convention Center is preparing to shelter up to 4,000 Maui residents and visitors who are evacuating from the Maui wildfires today.

Convention Center General Manager Teri Orton said officials were told during an emergency briefing this morning that as many as 2,000 people were stranded at the Kahului Airport overnight. But Orton said the center is preparing for as many as 4,000 evacuees, which also will include homeless individuals. She said pets are welcome, too.

Orton said the center is hosting a large banquet event in all three exhibit halls today, but fortunately had other space to host evacuees as occupancy at Oahu hotels is at 90% and there are few rooms available to accommodate the emergency.

“We are ready. We have prepared to put them in our fourth-floor ballroom and then overflow will go into our third-floor meeting rooms,” she said. “We are prepared to distribute food to those that need it. We also are near the Ala Moana Center and other attractions so if people want to leave the shelter during the day there are things for them to do.”

She said the center has been told to prepare to host evacuees for at least 24-hours, but possibly up to 48-hours.

“It’s all hands on deck and we are doing call outs to security providers,” she said, adding that the center had previously served as a shelter in 2020 for Hurricane Douglas.

Orton said its still unclear when the first evacuees will arrive as “there is a challenge getting them onto planes and transportation from the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport also must be worked out.”

Keith Vieira, principal of KV& Associates, Hospitality Consulting, said he had heard Roberts Hawaii has been hired to transport evacuees.

Vieira said damages to Maui hotels and homes from wind and fire are still being assessed.

“Communication is difficult. Cell phone connections aren’t great, but we know that we have had employees who have had their homes affected,” Vieira said. “Our main concern in the visitor industry is the safety of our employees and our guests.”

Vieira said Maui hotels are grappling with the loss of power, which affects perishables, including food supplies. He said Maui hotels are keeping current and coming guests apprised of the situation.

“We’re calling reservations and waiving cancellation charges,” he said. “The wind is supposed to die down this afternoon. We are hoping that will make a difference.”

Vieira said he is seeing airline discounting to assist in the crisis, including $19 fares from Southwest for Maui-touching interisland nonstop itineraries. The carrier also appears to be offering more flexible policies.

Cade Watanabe, spokesman for Unite Here Local 5, said the union has gotten calls from hotel members at the Sheraton Maui and the Ka‘anapali Beach Club, who have been affected by the winds and the wildfires.

In addition to the two hotels on Maui, Watanabe said, Unite Here Local 5 represents workers at the Kaiser Lahaina Clinic, and at Gate Gourmet at the airport. Altogether, that’s about 500 workers, he said.

He said some members are helping visitors and each other. Others are stranded or are having difficulty getting to work, and some are in more dire straits.

“We don’t know the full impact yet, but I’ve visited members at their homes in areas that I now see burnt,” he said. “People are still very much in crisis mode.”

RELATED COVERAGE

>> Maui Mayor Bissen confirms at least 6 killed by huge wildfires

>> Red flag warning for all islands extended as winds continue

>> A list of open emergency shelters, closed schools and roads

>> Convention Center ready to shelter up to 4,000 Maui evacuees

>> Maui’s War Memorial Complex accepting donations for fire evacuees

>> Lahaina burns as high winds fuel wildfires on Maui, Big Island

>> More than 12K without power on Maui, extended outages expected

>> Hawaii island still battling 3 blazes in Kohala

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