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Thursday, August 17, 2023
August 17, 2023 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 2:45 PM :: 5436 Views

Honolulu District Courthouse Closed for Weekend due to Emergency 'Structural Assessment'

Deadly Hawaii Fires Are Result of Political and Policy Failures—Not Climate Change

State Energy Officials: Hawaiian Electric Prioritized State-Mandated Green-Energy Push over Wildfire Prevention

Locals lash out against Biden’s visit to Maui after deadly wildfires: ‘I don’t want him here’

NYP: … “I don’t want him here,” Jay Awan, of Lahaina, told The Post Wednesday. “He’s just coming to Maui to look good in front of the cameras.”

Awan, 45, a cook and tiki carver, said nothing would be gained from the 80-year-old president’s visit, as his town, a once-popular resort area, has been “burned to the ground.” …

“They’re going to put resorts up all along here — Lahaina is going to lose its character as an old whaling village. We can’t get the historical sites back,” he lamented.

Peter Friedgen, another Lahaina resident, agreed with the sentiment, adding that he “don’t care if the president comes.”

The 66-year-old guitarist said he lost everything in the fire except for his instrument, which he strum while waiting on the outskirts of the charred city for officials to come.

“It’s a waiting game now for someone to show up — the government, insurers,” he said. “I’ve just been down the beach, waiting for people to get into town.”…

Kristi Bowman, 60, an accountant who lived in the city, said that she does want Biden to visit, but only to help relay the devastation with the rest of the world and verbalize the federal government’s commitment to helping the island.

“We haven’t had federal support,” Bowman said. “We’ve had local support, not federal.”

Bowman slammed FEMA for its strict bureaucracy that was causing tension on the island, with the accountant seeing a recent claim filed on behalf of clients who lost their home get immediately rejected….

“I filed an application for somebody for disaster funding and it already got denied, saying they didn’t have proof from the insurance company over how much their losses were — but there’s no possible way to get that information right now.”

She also scoffed at reports that Biden promised to deliver $700 one-time relief grants per household to those impacted by the fires.

With the residents’ frustration, Biden faces an uphill battle to ease the people of West Maui, and his recent gaffes have not helped.

The president on Tuesday broke his silence about the staggering death toll at an economy-focused speech in Milwaukee, but at one point appeared to forget the name “Maui” and referred to it as “the one where you see on television all of the time.”

Two days earlier, Biden had replied “No comment” when asked for his reaction to the tragedy — stoking criticism even from fellow Democrats….

read … Locals lash out against Biden’s visit to Maui after deadly wildfires: ‘I don’t want him here’

To Protect HECO, State not pursuing criminal probe of Maui fire

SA: … The comprehensive review by the state attorney general of the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century is not a formal criminal or civil investigation into the cause and response to the deadly blaze, Gov. Josh Green said Wednesday.

Speaking at a media briefing on Maui, Green said he has asked Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez to perform a “comprehensive review” of the deadliest natural disaster since statehood.

“The most important thing we can do at this point is to learn how to keep ourselves safer going forward,” said Green, in response to a question from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about the review. “It is not a criminal investigation in any way.”

By contrast, following the previous deadliest modern U.S. wildfire in Northern California in 2018, the Butte County district attorney led an exhaustive criminal probe of the cause and response to the fire.

That probe ended with a plea agreement that required Pacific Gas & Electric to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2018 fire that killed 84 people, burned about 153,336 acres and incinerated more than 18,000 homes and businesses.

(TRANSLATION: By not conducting criminal investigations, Green and Bissen are protecting HECO from PG&E’s fate.)

“My office isn’t opening any investigations at this time,” Maui County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew H. Martin told the Star- Advertiser in an interview. “I’m focused on helping my community heal right now.”…

read … State not pursuing criminal probe of Maui fire | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

Hawaiian Electric Is in Talks With Restructuring Firms

WSJ: … Hawaiian Electric is speaking with firms that specialize in restructuring advisory work, exploring options to address the electric utility’s financial and legal challenges arising from the Maui wildfires, said people familiar with the matter. …

The company is in discussions over the strategies the company can pursue and to determine whether it needs to hire legal and financial advisers, the people said. Hawaiian Electric didn’t respond to requests for comment.

More customer lawsuits are expected in coming weeks to increase the costs of defending and settling claims for Hawaiian Electric just as its access to financing is being threatened. 

S&P Global Ratings downgraded Hawaiian Electric’s credit rating to junk on Tuesday, saying the wildfires destroyed a significant segment of the company’s customer base and will take many years to restore. S&P also said that wildfire lawsuits seeking compensation for injuries, deaths and property damage will weigh on the company’s credit quality….

Certain of Hawaiian Electric’s creditors have also been speaking to attorneys with restructuring expertise, seeking to understand the risks to their investments, according to another person involved in the discussions.

As of June 30, Hawaiian Electric and its subsidiaries had roughly $3.5 billion in total debt to banks and bondholders. The company’s bonds due 2037 have plummeted since the fires, changing hands at 69 cents on the dollar Wednesday, down from 95 cents last week. Hawaiian Electric stock closed at $14.57 Wednesday, down by more than half since the wildfires…. 

SA: Retired Maui judge files suit in Kula fire | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

SA: HEI seeks to weather financial storm, report says | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

read … Hawaiian Electric Is in Talks With Restructuring Firms

Ignored warnings, hubris, slow response fueled America's deadliest wildfire in a century

LAT: … In the wake of the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, officials in Hawaii have, at times, insisted that little could have been done to avoid the tragedy that obliterated a historic West Maui town and killed scores of residents.

"The largest force at play ... were 80-mph winds," Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said last week. "We have doubts that much could have been done with a fiery, fast-moving fire like that."

Yet there is plenty of evidence that government officials should have been aware of the danger to Lahaina, home to generations of Hawaiian families and once home of the Hawaiian king.

And what makes the wildfire all the more tragic — forever linking the town with unspeakable sorrow — is there was actually far more time to sound an alarm.

A crucial reason why the fire killed so many — at least 106 victims, and almost certainly more — is because the ignition point was in a residential neighborhood, not miles away in the wilderness.

The fire began at the town's highest elevation, near a subdivision tucked beneath canyons that spit out howling gusts during a Santa Ana-style wind event.

The orientation of those canyons and the way the nearby neighborhoods were built in the 1970s and ’80s created a dangerous situation in the event of a wildfire.

Should homes there ignite during Santa Ana-style winds, burning embers would be blown to the southwest, acting like a fiery dagger to the heart of historic Lahaina, which has precious few escape routes.

"The ignition is probably in the worst possible spot," said Neil Lareau, an assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Nevada-Reno. It flared in densely packed neighborhoods, providing ample fuel.

Once the homes were torched, they acted like a flammable runway as embers followed the winds downhill to the shoreline.

“In many ways, you’re creating a carpet of fuel if you’re having home-to-home propagation of fire,” UC Merced climatologist John Abatzoglou said.

Maui County officials recognized the wildfire risks — but it appears little was done to prepare, records and interviews show.

In 2018, one of the most destructive fires in state history struck West Maui, spread by similar winds.

"Wild/brush/forest fires present a growing threat to Maui County citizen safety and property. Island communities are particularly vulnerable because populations tend to be clustered and dependent on single highways, often located on the island edge," a Maui County government commission wrote in 2021.

In fact, commissioners wrote: "Hawaii’s and Maui’s fire problem is more extreme than on the U.S. mainland." The report they cited for that data urged attention to human-caused risks, such as above-ground power lines that can spark in windy conditions.

The Maui County Hazard Mitigation Plan warns of past windstorms, including a prior record in Maui of 83 mph. "Extreme wind is recognized as a regular occurrence in Maui County," the report said. "All of Maui County is vulnerable to high windstorms due to the topography and movement of weather fronts through the area. During a time of extreme heat and high winds, the wildfire threat would significantly increase."

A map of Maui in the hazard plan shows Lahaina in an area of high wildfire risk. In 2018, winds helped spread fires in the western part of the island — including in the Lahaina area — with gusts so strong that air support had to be grounded, according to a report from the Pacific Fire Exchange. Among the West Maui complex fires, 21 residences and 27 vehicles were burned.

But a lack of deaths in prior wildfires may have led to complacency among officials in Hawaii.

"You learn from your scars in emergency response," said Tim Perry, a former chief of staff for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. "If you have no scars, you may learn all at once."…

read … Ignored warnings, hubris, slow response fueled America's deadliest wildfire in a century

Maui emergency official makes excuses for decision not to sound sirens; Confirmed deaths now at 111

SA: … Maui Emergency Management Agency Administrator Herman Andaya today defended his experience and the decision not to activate sirens warning Maui residents about the fast-moving fire that destroyed the historic town of Lahaina last week.

Andaya said he did not regret his decision in response to a reporter’s question. Sirens are used primarily for tsunamis, not for brushfires, he said. The public is trained to seek higher ground when the siren is sounded, he said.

“Had we sounded the siren that night, we were afraid that people would have gone mauka,” he said, adding that people would have headed directly into the flames. Andaya added that there were no sirens located on the mauka or mountainside of Maui where the fires were spreading….

Hawaii’s siren system is described as the “largest single integrated public safety outdoor siren warning system in the world,” according to the County of Maui’s outdoor warning siren testing website. “The all-hazard siren system can be used for a variety of both natural and human-caused events; including tsunamis, hurricanes, dam breaches, flooding, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, terrorist threats, hazardous material incidents, and more,” the website said.

Andaya said the day of the fire most people were indoors with their air conditioning on, and they wouldn’t have heard the siren, especially with the winds gusting and blaring outside.

“I heard it was very loud. So they wouldn’t have heard the sirens,” he said.

Gov. Josh Green said the issue would be examined in a comprehensive review that he has ordered state Attorney General Anne Lopez to oversee and clarified that it is not a criminal investigation….

read … Maui emergency official defends decision not to sound sirens; Confirmed deaths now at 110

Maui’s emergency management director was at Oahu conference as wildfires raged

HNN: … After a week of being noticeably absent from all news conferences Maui County Emergency Management Agency Director Herman Andaya addressed media for the first time Tuesday.

During a question-and-answer period, he acknowledged he was not on Maui last Tuesday.

“I was in Oahu attending a conference,” he said.

According to documents, Andaya was in Waikiki at the Alohilani Resort attending what was scheduled to be a three-day FEMA disaster preparedness seminar called the Pacific Partnership Meeting. A receipt from the hotel shows Andaya checked in last Monday, a day before the fire started. That same receipt lists a departure date of Aug. 9, the day after the Lahaina blaze.

What remains unclear is exactly what time Andaya left Oahu and returned to Maui — along with details about how much the administrator knew during the early stages of disaster response.

Because each media organization is limited to one question at news conferences, we were unable to get those answers on Wednesday.

According to the Pacific Partnership Agenda, the FEMA conference began Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. —after fires in Kula and Lahaina sparked.

According to Tuesday’s agenda, the day wrapped up with a networking reception at the hotel’s Longboard Club from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

That’s the same time that Lahaina was being engulfed in flames….

HNN Investigates is still trying to confirm if Andaya attended the conference alone or if other emergency officials from his office were with him.

HNN is also trying to track down who was there from the state’s emergency management office….

read … Maui’s emergency management director was at Oahu conference as wildfires raged

Only 1,300 households registered with FEMA

ABC: … The fire has burned thousands of homes and commercial buildings to the ground….

read … Only 1,300 households registered with FEMA

Maui Tourist Arrivals Down 80% Thanks to Celebrutard Misinformation

KHON: … Local businesses on the Valley Isle are starting to feel the impact of misinformation, as there has been a significant decrease in visitor arrivals. State data indicates that passenger arrivals to Maui have plummeted by nearly 80%, from approximately 7,500 daily to just 1,500 in the past week….

Mike Phillips, owner of Coconut’s Fish Cafe and a Maui resident for over 25 years, is feeling the strain. Besides mourning the tragic fire-related deaths — a grief he likens to the passing of his mother — Phillips is deeply concerned for his staff.

“My employees cannot survive on unemployment. Just yesterday, we made only $4,000, compared to an average of $17,000 in daily sales. With reduced tips and wages, how will they manage their expenses?” Phillips questioned, revealing that he might have to shut one of his two eateries on the Valley Isle soon….

Erratic messages circulating online, including warnings from some of Hawaii’s celebrities, have mistakenly portrayed the entire island of Maui as closed….

read … Despite social media posts, officials and residents say Maui is open

A Hawaii Mother Haunted By The Brutal Killing Of One Child Tries To Hold Onto Another

CB: …The mother of a Waimanalo girl allegedly murdered by the couple who adopted her says she is sober and working to prevent the state from putting her newborn son into the same system….

… A year or so into her addiction in 2018, when she gave birth to one of her daughters, Joseph tested positive for meth. As often happens in such cases, the state got involved.

At first, the children were placed with Joseph’s mother, Barbara Kumai. But after six months or so, Joseph said, her mother told her that the children would be moving in with Isaac (who also goes by Sonny) and Lehua Kalua.

Kumai said shortly after Ariel disappeared that the state had removed Ariel and her older sister from her home after expressing concerns about Kumai’s ability to care for them while she was dealing with her boyfriend’s serious motorcycle accident.

“The social worker said she didn’t want me to get overwhelmed,” Kumai told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “She should have given me a chance.”

Joseph and her cousin, Taeia Costa, believe there was another factor in the state’s decision to place the children with the Kaluas — Lehua believed that her brother was the father of the youngest girl, which Joseph says is not true.

Joseph visited the kids when they lived with her mother. After they were moved to the Kalua household, she said, she saw them two or three times a week.

At the Kaluas, she says she started noticing signs of abuse.

A child related to the Kaluas would bully Ariel, taking away her toys and and trying to hit her, Joseph said. But the Kaluas did nothing.

“I kind of scolded him one day and after that, I couldn’t have visits at the house,” Joseph said.

The state arranged for her to keep seeing the kids at her mother’s house, a CWS office downtown or the Waimanalo public library.

During these visits, Joseph said, she started seeing other signs of abuse. She noticed bruises on Ariel’s arms. When she was lifting her into the car after a visit, Ariel’s shirt pulled up and Joseph saw bruises on her back and head.

Joseph said she alerted the CWS social worker, who said Ariel had been pinching herself.

“My daughter doesn’t pinch herself,” Joseph said. “That’s not normal.”

Another time, Ariel’s finger was swollen and Joseph said she asked the girl what happened. Ariel ground her foot into the floor. Joseph believes she was pantomiming someone stomping on her finger.

The social worker, she said, attributed it to a bug bite.

After Ariel disappeared, Joseph saw a Hawaii News Now report that Ariel’s finger had been broken in October 2019, while she was in the Kaluas’ care, and that there had been a delay in reporting it to the state or getting it treated.

Joseph said she also noted how hungry Ariel always seemed to be.

During the visits, Joseph would bring snacks for the kids. “She constantly wanted to eat,” Joseph said. “She’d eat whatever I brought.” 

Joseph said she tried to find out what life was like for her kids in the Kalua home. But Ariel, sometimes at the insistence of her older sister, kept quiet.….

Star Adv: 2021: The Kaluas treated “Ariel” differently because she and her siblings had the same mother but different fathers, according to the witness. 

read … A Hawaii Mother Haunted By The Brutal Killing Of One Child Tries To Hold Onto Another - Honolulu Civil Beat

DoTax: Bankrupt Reverse Mortgage Lender Did not Pay Hawaii Income Taxes for Eight Years

RMD: … Although most of the dust has settled in the bankruptcy declaration by former reverse mortgage industry leader Reverse Mortgage Funding (RMF), the State of Hawaii alleges it is owed years of unpaid taxes, according to court documents reviewed by RMD.

The State of Hawaii’s Department of Taxation assigned a delinquent tax collection assistant to monitor the bankruptcy proceedings of RMF, and to “determine whether obligations regarding tax liabilities are being satisfied.” The assistant claims that at various points between tax years 2014 and 2022, RMF failed to file different kinds of required tax returns.

As the bankruptcy proceeding was unfolding, the state in May filed a proof of claim against RMF parent company Reverse Mortgage Investment Trust (RMIT) saying that the company did not file the required State of Hawaii general excise, county surcharge and withholding tax returns between 2014 and 2022….

read … The State of Hawaii is seeking allegedly unpaid taxes from RMF

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