COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL)— The death toll in Hawaii now stands at 99 following the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century. More than 1,000 people remain unaccounted for and crews have only scoured about a quarter of the search area so far.
State officials say 86% of the more than 2,200 structures that were destroyed were residential.
Fort Moore business owner Kalani Sayles was born and raised on Oahu. In 2003, she and her family moved to then Fort Benning. They last visited Hawaii in 2021 for Christmas; Sayles and her daughters were also planning to visit Maui the same time the wildfires engulfed the island.
“I was planning a mother daughter’s trip with my girls because my daughter was going to leave, and then my middle child, she just graduated from high school,” Kalani Sayles, owner of Kalani’s Mixed Plate LLC. said. “We always wanted to go to Maui because we’ve been to the other islands, and I don’t know if something told me not to. But that particular week plans changed.”
With family still in Hawaii, learning about the wildfires a day after the blaze started left her in disbelief.
“I saw that, and I was like, ‘What? That’s not even real,’ so immediately, you know, you’re contacting your friends, families just to make sure that everybody is okay,” Sayles said.
Learning about the wildfires sent her back to 2018 when the island she grew up on was wiped out by a volcano eruption.
“It just brought back memories. I was like, ‘I can’t believe like that has happened or is happening,’ and just seeing people running, people crying, not knowing what to do. It was really hard to see that again,” Sayles described.
However, Sayles knew exactly how to help from more than 4,000 miles away. She has started the “Maui Relief Movement.”
“I made that post a few days ago, just the post about taking donations and then just right away people were texting me, calling me, emailing me.”
In just three days, five businesses have joined setting up dop-off sites in both Georgia and Alabama.
Owner of NG Salon & Tonsorial Eric Norris says he opened his doors for donations after seeing Kalani’s Facebook post and knowing her personal connection to the island.
“I’m glad that we can be a small part of trying to help them out in some way. When you see the list of the things that they need, they’re so basic, like you need deodorant? You need toothpaste?” Norris said. “They just need these small things just to get them through because they’ve lost just everything. They don’t even have those few small things anymore, and it’s just heartbreaking.”
Alyson Nesnick, library director of Harris County Public Library, said her love for Lahaina, Maui encouraged her to designate the library as a drop-off location.
“I have visited the beautiful town of Lahaina, Maui several times and fell in love with it and their Aloha spirit. A part of my soul felt a deep connection to the community, culture, and land. Seeing the devastating fires that destroyed this historical, beautiful area, broke my heart. I knew I had to find a way to do something to give back,” Nesnick said. “When Kalani was looking for community members to host as a donation collection site, I did not hesitate to respond. Maui needs this help. Being that we are a community with heart, Harris County Public Library is the perfect location to collect these vital items to help rebuild Maui’s families and businesses. Lahaina will rebuild and I want to know we were there supporting these efforts through this Maui Relief. Mahalo!”
So far, the following businesses have joined as drop-off sites:
- NG Salon & Tonsorial
- 8140 Fortson Road Columbus, Ga. 31909
- Tuesday – Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
- PAWS Humane Society
- 4900 Milgen Road
- Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 1-5 p.m.
- U.S. Army Combatives School
- 8829 Marne Road Bldg. 9079 Fort Moore, Ga. 31905
- Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
- German Foods, Gifts & More
- 711 13th Street, Phenix City, Ala. 36867
- Tuesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
- Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Harris County Public Library
- 7511 Ga. HWY 116, Hamilton, Ga. 31811
- Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
- F3 Training Center Bad Apple MMA
- 145 Challenger Court #22 Columbus, GA 31904
- Monday-Friday 5-6 p.m.
These are the items Sayles is looking to collect:
- New coolers
- Gas Cans
- Paper Towels
- Cases of bottle water and gallon water
- Food: Canned and Dried (Non-perishable)
- First Aid Kits
- Plastic totes/bins
- Personal Hygiene products: Shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash, deodorant
- Air Mattresses
- Baby items: Diapers, wipes, clothes, etc.
- Baby food and formula
- Pet supplies & food
- Female hygiene products
- Toilet paper
To those directly impacted by the wildfires, Sayles has one message.
“Stay strong. Know that we love you. Everyone’s praying for you guys, especially for the ones that’s lost their lives or families that lost their loved ones. We’re sorry about your loss. I know these donations can’t bring your family back, but we hope that it’ll help at least bring some ease to your families when you do get back on your feet.”
Sayles says she is not taking any monetary donations; however, she recommends those wishing to make monetary donations to go to the following sites:
She also asks tourists to allow Maui the time to rebuild.
“I know there’s a lot of tourists or whatever is still going in there and just acting like there’s nothing going on. If you can reschedule your plans, go at a later date, maybe another year or something, until the people of Maui can rebuild,” Sayles said. “Even though you’re not visiting the Lahaina area or going farther east, just cancel your trip to Maui or even the state unless you’re there to help out or you have actually family there that you need to get to.”