Maui residents are still reeling from the aftermath of the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century that swept through the island earlier this month.
The death toll from the wildfire stands at 115, and an unknown number of people are still missing. Although the fires have been brought under control, many residents have no home to return to. In the centuries-old town of Lahaina, almost every building in the town of 13,000 people was destroyed.
Thousands of Maui residents have signed up for federal aid following the wildfires, but displaced residents now have another fund they can tap into: the People’s Fund of Maui, created by Oprah Winfrey. and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson.
The fund was announced in a video featuring the famous television host and retired wrestler turned actor. Winfrey resides part-time in Maui and Johnson spent part of her teenage years in Hawaii.
“We’ve created the People’s Fund of Maui, which will put money directly into the hands of people who need it right now,” Winfrey said in the video, alongside Johnson.
The fund was launched with an initial donation of US$10 million (over C$13.5 million) provided by Winfrey and Johnson, who are calling on others to donate.
Maui residents who have lost their homes and are over the age of 18 can apply for assistance on the People’s Fund of Maui website and are eligible to receive US$1,200 (CA$1,600) per month in funds direct, “to help them get through this period of crisis”. recovery,” a newswire states.
All applicants need to do is show proof of residency for their lost or uninhabitable home, according to the website. Funds will continue to be distributed each month for as long as the money lasts.
We're honored to announce the People’s Fund of Maui, a fund putting money directly in the pockets of those who were affected by the recent wildfires.
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) August 31, 2023
“As people around the world witnessed the catastrophic loss and devastation caused by the Maui wildfires, they also witnessed the great spirit and resilience of our Polynesian culture and the immense strength of the people. of Maui,” Johnson said. “Even in the toughest times, the people of Maui come together and we rise up – that’s what makes us stronger. »
Johnson adds that the People’s Fund of Maui is working with “esteemed community leaders” to ensure that money from the fund goes directly to affected residents.
He said in the fund’s announcement video that some people looking for ways to help Maui residents may be confused and frustrated about which organizations to support.
“We’re here to 100 percent guarantee that your donations will go straight into the hands of Lahaina residents,” Johnson said, adding that it’s a “clean” and “direct” way to get money to displaced Hawaiians.
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The idea for the fund came after Winfrey and Johnson texted each other about how best to support Maui residents, Winfrey said in the announcement video.
“I met with people from across the community who have been affected by the fires over the past few weeks, asking them what they needed most and how I could help them,” Winfrey said.
“The main thing I heard was their concern about how to move forward despite the huge financial burden. The community has come together in so many wonderful ways, and my intention is to support those affected as they figure out what rebuilding looks like for them.
Maui County sued the Hawaiian Electric Company, blaming it for starting the wildfires after the utility failed to shut off power during unusually high winds and dry conditions.
The utility admitted that its power lines did indeed start the wildfire on the morning of August 8, saying it “appears to have been caused by downed power lines in high winds.”
But the Hawaiian Electric Company said county firefighters were also responsible for the wildfire after allegedly declaring the initial blaze under control and leaving the scene, only to start a second wildfire that eventually consumed Lahaina.
Richard Fried, a Honolulu attorney working as co-counsel in the Maui County lawsuit, said if their power lines hadn’t caused the initial fire, “the whole thing would be moot.”
“That’s the biggest problem,” Fried said Monday. “They can dance around it all they want. But there is no explanation for this.
— With files from The Associated Press