Update on Maui — Transition from Emergency Response to Recovery/Rebuilding

This article appears as “Message from the Bishop” in the April 2024 Headquarters Update newsletter.

Photo: HHMH Business Manager Derrick Inouye gestures during a site visit to Lahaina Hongwanji by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and HI-EMA (Hawai’i Emergency Management Agency) officials in March 2024. Courtesy of Rev. Ai Hironaka.

Eight months have passed since the Maui Wildfire devastated many houses and buildings and displaced thousands of people. We would like to express our appreciation to the ministers, members, and many people from within and outside the Hongwanji Community for your heartwarming words and compassionate actions for those affected by the Maui Wildfire. We would like to provide some updated reports of our emergency responses and recovery actions as Hawaii Kyodan.

As of March 29, 2024, HHMH has received $872,292.86 in cash/check donations. Through the Committee on Social Concerns, we have processed omimai for each member of Lahaina Hongwanji and other individuals of our Hawaii Kyodan Ohana who have been impacted by the wildfires. We have also donated to various non-profit organizations to support their emergency relief efforts.  As the needs of the Lahaina Hongwanji Mission, its members, and the West Maui community arise, we will continue to provide support to facilitate the healing process. We are also assessing the significant funding requirements to reestablish the Temple as an integral part of the Lahaina community.

Many temples and individuals in Japan have extended their support directly to HHMH or through Honzan’s fundraising campaign. The Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, our headquarters in Kyoto, and its affiliated organizations have also contributed over $240,000. Bishop Umitani attended the Shukai (Legislative Assembly) at Honzan on February 29, 2024, to make a presentation on the Maui Wildfires and officially express our appreciation for their ongoing support.

FEMA’s site visit to Lahaina Hongwanji was held on March 11 and 12, 2024. The purpose of the visit was to enable FEMA to develop an estimate of reconstruction costs for lost structures. During the inspection, our team also met with FEMA Hazard Mitigation, Historical Preservation, & HIEMA.  Rev. Hironaka, Derrick Inouye, Gary Murai, and several Lahaina Hongwanji Members represented the HHMH. The Maui County Right of Entry has been approved and the date for the Corps of Engineers to handle the debris cleanup has not yet been set.

As the scope of the Maui Wildfire Emergency Response Ad-Hoc Committee has shifted from emergency response to recovery/rebuilding, the Committee was disbanded on April 1, 2024, and the Lahaina Hongwanji Recovery and Rebuilding Committee was newly organized, chaired by Michael Munekiyo.  The new Committee will focus on recovery-related coordination requirements with FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, and other State and County agencies. As well, the Committee will support the Lahaina Hongwanji Sangha in the various planning processes associated with the Temple reestablishment goal.

As fellow travelers of the Nembutsu, may we continue to stand in solidarity with those experiencing suffering and sorrow caused by this unprecedented disaster.

In Gassho,

Rev. Toshiyuki Umitani, Bishop
Derrick Inouye, Business Manager
Michael Munekiyo, Chair of the Lahaina Hongwanji Recovery and Rebuilding Committee