Lahaina's living open-air cathedral as it lives in memory. The banyan tree in Courthouse Square, 60 feet tall, with 46 major trunks and a canopy overspreading two acres, a gift from missionaries in India, planted in 1873.
Since the firestorm struck Lahaina last week, we've heard from friends and family on five continents, anxious for reassurance, eager to extend a helping hand. We've been doing our best to answer all messages promptly, but a message that came in yesterday challenged us to do better. "Are you OK?," it read. "Let your friends know." Why hadn't I thought to take the initiative? Well, here I am.
Blessedly, my wife Susan and I, our cats, and our property came through without so much as a power outage or a dropped cell call. The same is true for our entire area of the island. But Lahaina Town, only 20 miles away, has been wiped out as cruelly as Pompeii. Intensified by gale-force winds, the flames are said to have reached temperatures of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Victims attempting to escape by car perished in the gridlock or in the crashing sea, under a rain of fire. The huddled remains of others who died in their homes are so fragile, they fall apart before the recovery teams' eyes. The record-breaking death toll approaches 100 and continues to climb, with more than 1,000 people unaccounted for and feared dead. The loss of homes and businesses is estimated at $6 billion, plus another half billion in upcountry Kula. Rebuilding will take years.
Many of you have asked how you can help. For some verified charities, check this link. We've directed contributions to Maui United Way as well as to the Maui Humane Society, which is doing heroic work with lost, injured, and orphaned pets.
Many have also asked about the historic banyan in Lahaina's Courtyard Square, said to be the oldest such tree in the state and the largest in the country. It arrived on Maui 150 years ago as a gift from missionaries in India. From eight feet, it grew to a height of 60 feet, with a system of 46 major trunks and a canopy overspreading two acres. To us, the tree has always seemed a living open-air cathedral, a cool, serene refuge from the fierce sunshine of a a notoriously blistering Lahaina day. Though scorched in last week's fires, the majestic banyan still stands. Will it survive? Here's hoping it flourishes over years and decades ahead as a symbol of Lahaina risen from the ashes.